Overview: The true story of the relationship between famous physicist Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde during ups and downs of Hawking’s battle with ALS. Focus Features. 2014. 123 minutes.
Eddie Redmayne: First thing’s first: Eddie Redmayne. Every conversation about this movie is probably going to revolve around Redmayne’s transformative performance as Hawking, and there’s a reason for that. Redmayne portrays Hawking before his diagnosis, during the early stages of his illness, and after his most extreme transitions, such as losing his voice and regaining it with the use of a computer system. Redmayne is flawless. Truly. You’ll forget that you’re watching an actor. If there’s any justice in the world, Redmayne will win something for this performance. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie isn’t quite as glowingly impressive.
What’s Missing: Felicity Jones is arguably just as good as Redmayne in her subtle, yet strong performance as Wilde, but she’s never given as much to work with as one feels that she deserves. This is The Theory of Everything’s greatest flaw. The acting is great, the script is solid, and the pacing is fine, but it never delves as deeply into this story as it could have. There is clearly more to this relationship: more pain, more turmoil, more joy, even, but we aren’t privy to much of it. For example, Hawking was portrayed as a confident atheist in the film. Jane, a devout Catholic. And though we see a bit of this conflict, there is so much more that could’ve been explored. The lack of exploration gives the film an uncomfortable quiet tension that never fully goes away.
The tendency to fall back into formulaic plotlines and directing decisions is one that plagues the entire film. Just as it feels as though we’re about to break new ground, director James Marsh reels things back in. Even when we’re seeing the hard times in Hawking and Wilde’s marriage, things are never too hard.
The Cinematography: At times, The Theory of Everything feels more like a highly stylized documentary than a scripted film, and it is strongest in these moments. Marsh and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme created incredibly lovely imagery here, and I fear Delhomme will become the film’s biggest unsung hero.
Overall: The Theory of Everything always plays it safe (and admittedly that will probably do it plenty of favors come awards season), but as a result, it’ll leave some viewers wishing (like I am) that we had jumped fully into this world, instead of just skating comfortably along the surface.