Eddie Redmayne is extraordinary in “The Theory of Everything,” the new biopic about Stephen Hawking's life and marriage.
It's the job of a superior craftsman, showing how Hawking's body, succumbing to a motor neuron disease, deteriorated – and how his spirt didn’t. Redmayne creates the perfect storm for an Oscar nomination.
However, there's very little that's extraordinary about the rest of the movie. Soft, glossy and filled with stirring, soapy music, it hits highlights in the famed physicist’s life, but nothing in between.
The lovely Felicity Jones, who played Charles Dickens’ lover in last year's “The Invisible Woman,” co-stars as Jane Wilde Hawking, whose memoir supplies the basis for the story. At Cambridge, she has an across-the-room meet-cute with Stephen. “He's a little odd,” her friend says, but Jane likes his brains and his raffish smile.
They marry, and Stephen is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, given only two years to live. That doesn’t happen.
This is the kind of movie in which babies keep being born, with different actors playing the kids at various ages, but viewers can’t tell who’s who. And it’s difficult to tell how much time passes. The film begins in 1963, we're told, but no other time markers are used.
“So many years,” says Jane during a painful, later scene, when Stephen has made plans to travel without her.
“The Theory of Everything” begins as a love story, complete with (literal) fireworks, but winds up as a story of two friends. It probably wouldn’t have been made if it weren’t about famous people.
Like most biopics, this movie covers a great span of time, but doesn’t settle in or really explore the characters’ lives. It gives impressions and a general summation of events, but not many deep, productive or authentic moments.
Director James Marsh has made good documentaries, such as the beautiful, bizarre “Wisconsin Death Trip” (1999) and the tense, Oscar-winning “Man on Wire” (2008). But the skill and imagination he displayed in those films don’t come through here.
One good thing the movie does is find ways to simplify Hawking's theories about time and black holes.
To see the real Hawking, and learn more about his work, Errol Morris' documentary “A Brief History of Time” (1992) is highly recommended. It did not win an Oscar, but then, as Stephen remarks, “Another award… what can you do?”
The Theory of Everything
Two and a half stars
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, David Thewlis
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Directed by: James Marsh
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes