The Theory of Everything is a serviceable film, wanly directed but well acted, that turns out to be a somewhat complicated romance, since the main couple don’t stay together.
The story of Stephen Hawking and his marriage to Jane Hawking, the film is basically a disease-of-the-week movie on steroids. It has the look and feel of big-budget Oscar bait, but is also curiously limp and, since the truth didn’t comply with the Hollywood ending, it leaves one feeling strangely unsatisfied.
At Cambridge in 1963, Hawking was a gangly doctoral student in physics. Jane was studying French and Spanish. At a party they share a glance across a crowded room. They end up falling in love, but Hawking has some troubling difficulty with his motor skills.
He is diagnosed with ALS and given two years to live. He decides to play the martyr and pushes her away, but she is determined and they marry. As his body deteriorates, his mind is intact, and he develops a theory about the beginning of the universe. The couple has children, but Jane is put under a strain as Hawking refuses outside help.
Eventually she meets a church choir director, who becomes a great friend to the family, but he and Jane develop feelings for each other. That works out okay, it turns out, because when Hawking does decide to hire a nurse, they end up falling for each other.
All of this is told in a kind of stiff-upper-lip Britishness. In a way, it’s about two romances, as we go through the ups and downs of Jane’s relationship with Hawking and then with the choir director, without feeling bad about anyone else. I will say that the nurse, whom Hawking ended up marrying (although the closing credits don’t tell us so) does get the worst of it. Perhaps that’s because the film was based on Jane’s memoir.
The highlight of the film is Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Hawking. He gets two big pieces of acting candy–celebrity impersonation and a debilitating disease–but doesn’t pander. In the early scenes he has Hawking’s shaggy dog mannerisms down, even his head tilt, which is how we envision him now, folded into this wheelchair. But in the later stages, when his movement is severely restricted, Redmayne still manages to enthrall. I was particularly impressed by a scene in which his nurse takes in his mail and finds a copy of Penthouse. His expression of both embarrassment and amusement is brilliant acting.
As Jane, Felicity Jones dominates the film. It’s a solid performance, without scenery chewing. I see her name on everyone’s list for an Oscar nomination, and in a way that’s pleasing, because she doesn’t have the big scene that that usually requires. Much of her acting is internal.
The director is Jan Marsh, and I found the work to be haphazard at times, with some strange edits. At times the film seems to have gotten away from Marsh, who simply relies on the lovely cinematography and music to tell the story, rather than the script.
I liked The Theory of Everything, but just barely. It wants to be a romance and a film about a great scientist, but ends up doing neither. For Hawking’s work one should watch Errol Morris’ A Brief History of Time, based on the best-selling book that made Hawking world-famous. As for the romance, it may be more honest than most, given that it ends in divorce, but there’s something of a betrayal about that. My girlfriend asked me, “Are they still together?” while we were watching and I had to tell her they weren’t, which kind of took some air out of her. She did cry at the end, though.
My grade for The Theory of Everything: B-.