Theory of Everything, The (2014)

Review #1,126

Director:  James Marsh
Cast:  Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson
Plot:  A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / Romance
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Leading Actor.  Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score.
Runtime:  123min
Rating:  PG13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.

“There should be no boundaries to human endeavor.  We are all different.  However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.  While there's life, there is hope.”

If Christopher Nolan made The Theory of Everything, it would have been Interstellar (2014).  But there is nothing science-fictional about James Marsh's new film, a biopic on Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. 

Marsh, if you remember, won an Oscar for the superlative documentary Man on Wire (2008), about Philippe Petit, the dare-deviling performance artiste infamous for walking across a metal wire connecting the New York twin towers without any safety harness. 

In The Theory of Everything, Marsh dramatizes the life of another extraordinary man, played by Eddie Redmayne in a breakthrough performance that has earned critical plaudits.  I first saw, and was impressed by, Redmayne in the Marilyn Monroe biopic My Week with Marilyn (2011).  Here, he captures Hawking as a brilliant man of science and of life – his genius, his debilitating disease, and his encompassing love.

Redmayne is backed by the effective Felicity Jones, who plays Hawking's wife.  Both should get Oscar nominations for their work here, but it is the former who will have a better shot at winning the coveted award, in what is turning out to be a two-way fight between him and Michael Keaton (of Birdman) for Best Leading Actor. 

As a period film, Marsh's work is polished, glossy even.  If not for its emotional pull, and the realistic if saccharine romance at the heart of the film, The Theory of Everything would have been a manufactured awards-baiting picture that is soulless.  It has its tearjerking moments, but this is not a depressing film. 

Instead it is a hopeful one – Hawking's quest to find out the truth about who we are, and why we are here is inspirational.  It is not because of the science, the passion for discovery, but rather something innately existential.  To the point that no disease could dent his fervent desire to seek for, as it is often repeated in the film, the theory of everything.

From the art direction to costume design to the beautiful score by up-and-coming composer Johann Johannsson, The Theory of Everything is seemingly pitch-perfect as a biopic.  But there is something that is constantly hampering the film's potential to be one of the great films of the year – its straightforwardness. 

Marsh's work plays out like a formula – ain't that the irony?  And in a year when we have seen such groundbreaking films as Boyhood (2014) and Birdman, this is something that won't quite survive the test of time.  It is a case of good, but never great.

Verdict:  An emotional, if straightforward, biopic on a brilliant man of science and of life.

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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