The Theory of Everything (2014) (PG-13)

"The Theory of Everything" is a cosmic movie...not because it's really good; but because it literally is as comic as its subject likes to think. For undertaking to study such a life like Stephen Hawking, one would think that there would be this balance between the man's grandiose theories of existence itself and then the humanizing aspect, played out easily for drama-ready audiences in the form of a disease. Yet here is the problem: even the film manages to mark a balance between the work and the man himself, the filmmakers are more interested in Stephen's wife than Stephen. Okay fine, I could go with that. You want to make a movie about the true nature of love and how it can overcome many obstacles...great. but there's still not enough here to make "The Theory of Everything" anything less than slightly uncomfortable with moments of great acting.
It's in the first few frames of the movie that we see Jane (Felicity Jones) and Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) meet. They are at a "science party" and their eyes meet across the room, Stephen awkwardly introduces himself and the rest is a brief history of love and marriage.
The best moments in the film come in the first third, when Stephen is at Cambridge studying for his PhD and starting to show symptoms of his disease, ALS. This is just the prime rib of drama waiting to happen. A man with a brilliant mind trapped by his own body, what more could you want? Oh, a love story? You want a love story? Well, guess what? You get that too! It's like drama heaven!
But the story doesn't end's not even close to being finished there.
While studying at Cambridge, Stephen cannot decide what he wants to do his doctorate program on until he comes down with this motor neuron disease. Time! That's what he wants more of and that's what he'll do his program on.
Aided by one professor in particular (played by David Thewlis as the stereotypical "helpful professor type") Stephen writes his proposal and gets his doctorate quickly. The science involved in "The Theory of Everything" is actually quite interesting. While the movie is not that keen on knowing ever facet of Hawking's theories, they throw little tidbits of truth to the viewer in the form of references to UV radiation, the comic microwave background, quarks, and the like. It's not anything revolutionary; but it certainly is enough to make us realize that this wasn't some script that didn't bother putting any effort into its research. Some effort was better than none.
Yet this still isn't what the movie is about and as Stephen's condition worsens and Jane remains resolutely determined to care for him, we see the shift take place. Stephen disappears from our story as soon as he starts to lose the ability of speech, speaking in mumbles. The amount of time the screen gives him without the presence of Jane is minimal. She takes the spotlight, this is her story now. This makes sense considering that "The Theory of Everything" is based on the book by Jane Hawking and not A Brief History of Time.
We get it, Jane has struggles. The potential for tears and string-pulling music is very high here but director James Marsh (who won an Oscar for "Man on Wire") takes a very odd approach. At times, he's the sentimentality king and at other times, he doesn't choose to place that dollop of feelings that we need. What comes across is a risky movie about a life that deserves to be immortalized.
However, we already have that immortalization. "A Brief History of Time" by Errol Morris served as that, so why do we need this film? The only possible answer is that this film is for the wife and for the love story.
Eddie Redmayne here is tremendous, if a bit abused by both the script and the directing. Once he starts to lose his motor abilities, he kind of becomes a set piece for the drama surrounding his wife and her...ahem...needs. Yeah, that's right. *wince*
Jonathan (Charlie Cox) is a choir director at the church that Jane attends and he starts to become involved with the family as he cares for Stephen and helps Jane out with the children.
Amidst the struggle for emotion versus realism on the screen there is this great "God vs science" theme that continues throughout the movie that can be seen embodied in Stephen and Jane. They are at odds with each other over this fact and the movie blows this aside for more tasty drama prospects.
The film takes large risks, so it's hard to be anything but impressed with it...and yet it is nothing if not terrible trite and ordinary so it's hard to be anything but upset with it. "The Theory of Everything" lacks Morris' ability to combine both the research and the man.
The one actor who really shines in this movie because of their treatment and their performance is Maxine Peake as Elaine Mason, a speech therapist who enters near the end of the move; but shines in every single scene.
So what makes "The Theory of Everything" both splendid and uncomfortable? It's because it tries to be daring, while playing it drives to make an unconventional story using the most conventional techniques we have seen.
It's drama, it's glorious, and at times it heaves along like an exhausted freight train, slowly barreling from one scene to the next.

Score: ★★½

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