Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, David Thewlis
Based on the Book “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen” by Jane Hawkins
Written for the screen by Anthony McCarten
Directed by: James Marsh
Metacritic Score: 72
IMDb Score: 7.8
Winner of 1 Oscar (Best Actor – Eddie Redmayne), 2 Golden Globes (Best Actor – Eddie Redmayne, Best Original Score)
Nominated for 5 Oscars and 4 Golden Globes
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material
Bio-pics are pure Oscar bait. You can count on some many fingers how many movies get nominated, how many actors get nominated and, honestly, how they are forgotten soon after. Add someone with a disability, however, and you usually have a bona-fide winner on your hands. Hell, somehow Jamie Foxx still makes movies despite one truly good performance. The Theory of Everything reeks of that same Oscar bait goodness that comes out every year that either picks up steam and does its job or (in the case of movies like Amelia and J. Edgar) completely miss the mark.
But, very rarely do these Oscar bait films end up being much more than a performance piece for a certain actor or actress that says “Yo dog, check me out, I’m acting my shit out over here!” Pleasantly, The Theory of Everything isn’t just an Oscar bait film: it’s truly a heartfelt film that features a transformative performance by Eddie Redmayne. However, he isn’t the true star or the best element of this movie.
The film chronicles a specific time period, from the point where Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) meets his future wife Jane (Felicity Jones) to the time Stephen writes his book “A Brief History in Time”. It’s critical that you keep this very small detail in mind, because going into the movie thinking it’s a straight Hawking bio-pic is actually quite misleading. In fact, Stephen isn’t the main character in the film at all: It’s Jane, which is honestly a brave move on the filmmakers to chronicle a different perspective on such a dynamic figure that many already know about.
It’s with this detail in mind that the film works very well, thanks to the powerful performance of Felicity Jones. While Redmayne is definitely much more apparently visual, Jones’ subtle mannerisms punctuate the film’s most powerful scenes. In fact, from frame one of her appearance, you can feel every weight and stress that this situation puts on her, which is in retrospect makes this performance all the more engrossing and captivating.
When first coming off of watching the film, there was a feeling of distance in the Stephen Hawking character, mainly because you only spend 20 minutes with him being healthy. Because of this, his gradual degradation when it comes to his physical form isn’t quite felt in the way you would think it’s felt. The question of whether this will bother you is asked in one question: Did you expect this to be a straight bio-pic of Stephen Hawking? If so, then yes, there will be a set of disappointment and overall sense of distance you will feel for his plight.
In fact, the way the film is paced and does time passage is sort of strange, maybe a quasi-metaphor for Hawking himself that just doesn’t resonate that well. The majority of the film stays on Hawking being able to speak; only towards the end of the film does he gain his computerized voice that many know him for.
Once again, this is all about perspective of the viewer its intended. Someone who is fully prepared for the Jane Hawking bio-pic will be less likely disturbed by it then those who are looking for the Stephen Hawking bio-pic.
It’s with this that the strange dichotomy about this film really forces me to ask a few questions about how to review the film. Do I take the marketing of the film in mind because they hammer home that this is a Hawking bio-pic? Not really, because I feel the job of a reviewer is to take what you feel out of it and write about how it makes you feel and what you get out of it.
Yet, I can’t shake this overwhelming feeling to not give it a pass on this slight problem, if it really is one. The Theory of Everything isn’t really a bio-pic in the traditional sense: it’s really a romantic drama involving the Hawking couple. The film makes no bones about it being that either: most of the key scenes that are in the film belong to Jones, not Redmayne. Going so far as to say that this is probably the best female acting I’ve seen in years, which includes movies like Monster and Silver Linings Playbook (two of the strongest female performances that come to mind).
But do I not give Redmayne a demerit because he obviously had the more visual role and it was merely best by Felicity Jones? That’s not entirely fair, performances are performances of that person and singularly of that person.
To think of this film objectively and critically, the film isn’t a masterpiece or a work of art. It’s got pacing problems that can’t be ignored and it hits some of the same types of tropes that family dramas and romantic dramas go through, especially when one character is meant to be ill. These tropes don’t get hit well either, especially when you throw in the curveball of the family dynamic that comes in the middle of the movie.
The Theory of Everything is a film that, deep down, is meant for people who want to watch romantic dramas. For those, it’s one of the best out there. Bio-pic? It doesn’t work as well, since you’re not invested in Stephen as you are in Jane. But the performances by both principal actors are worth the time to invest in the film.
Just be prepared.
3.5/5 – An astounding performance by Felicity Jones, along with a great performance by Eddie Redmayne, punctuate a film that knows what it is, but doesn’t know quite how to get there.
The Wiz Says #7