REVIEW: “The Theory of Everything”

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Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has often found himself the object of a rather unusual fascination from the entertainment industry. Beyond the number of documentaries made about his life, he also appeared in everything from “Star Trek” to “The Simpsons”. But surprisingly there hasn’t been a biographical feature length drama until James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything”. The film offers a unique romantic perspective by putting its main focus on the relationship between Stephen and his first wife Jane Wilde Hawking.

The film is based on Jane Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen”, an updated version of her previous released biography. The story begins in 1963 when a young cosmology student named Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) meets a literature student named Jane (Felicity Jones) at a Cambridge University party. The two are clearly opposites but there is an undeniable attraction between them. There relationship grows as Stephen excels in his studies of science and mathematics. He is particularly encouraged by his professor (David Thewlis) who sees the amazing potential in Stephen’s intelligence and ideas.

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Redmayne and Jones have a surprisingly good chemistry which makes the relationship between their characters easy to buy into and digest. Stephen approaches Jane much like he does everything – systematically and very matter of fact. But she offers the perfect personality and balance to the unorthodox Stephen. Watching the relationship grow and flourish is the film’s most compelling dramatic component. But their affection is almost derailed after Stephen learns he has motor neuron disease. He is given two years to live and closes himself off from everyone especially Jane. But her love and determination not only keeps them together but gives Stephen the needed feeling of normalcy and the inspiration to keep fighting.

“The Theory of Everything” chronicles Hawking’s debilitating disease and the punishing toll it takes on his body and life. But it also highlighted his inspiring resilience and emphasized the unquestioned devotion of Jane. Redmayne is just superb offering several emotional levels to his character while also capturing the increasing physical impairments that end up leaving him bound to a wheelchair and unable to speak. The film is respectful in its handling of the illness and doesn’t exploit it for dramatic effect. But it’s Redmayne who makes it work by immersing himself into the character and avoiding many of the trappings that accompany this kind of role.

I was also surprised at just how much I enjoyed Felicity Jones. She’s charming, genuine, and energetic. Even more, there are times where she actually lifts up the material and makes a line of dialogue or emotional interaction work despite the occasional shortcomings of the script. James Marsh is a skilled documentarian and his work here shows that to be both an asset and a liability. This truly is a beautiful film to look at. There are a number of eye-grabbing shots and some interesting camera tricks. I particularly liked how the camera would sometimes move as if inspired by Hawking’s thorough perspective. It would scour a room or individual soaking up information much like Hawking himself.

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But sadly the film isn’t without its problems. It does avoid drawn out discussions of thermal dynamics and cosmology while still representing Hawking’s scientific specialty. But there were moments where the science felt shoehorned in. The film also uses several common biopic devices which keeps it from being anything fresh in the crowded genre. And then there is the last 15 minutes which felt terrible rushed and seemed to cover a few random events meant to tidy everything up. It comes off feeling like the film ran out of time necessitating a quick and clunky ending.

There is still a good story to be found in “The Theory of Everything” despite its standard biopic flavor and rushed ending. In fact it has moments where it absolutely shines. But the performances are the real treat especially from Redmayne who gives us the best work of his young career. It’s hard to watch him and not be impressed with the effort and earnestness he puts into every facet of the Stephen Hawking character. For someone like myself it was a surprise performance and it is hard to argue with his Oscar nomination and win. Now let’s just hope that his “Jupiter Ascending” performance didn’t undo the recognition this film has earned him.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

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29 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Theory of Everything”

  1. I agree with your sentiments; good film – good biopic even, with plenty of relevant visual flourishes – but the only way in which it truly rises above the crowd is through the two lead performances. I think it came in for a bit of a backlash after it was nominated for Best Picture (it’s good but not that good) which is a shame.

    Going back to the Oscars briefly, I’m really glad Redmayne won, as much as I enjoyed Keaton in Birdman; I still believe Oyelowo in Selma is better and Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler is arguably up there with those three, but it’s over with now and I suppose I should start looking forwards! I’m keen to see Jupiter Ascending but think I’ve missed my chance on the big screen here; by all accounts it’s a camp, ridiculous and extravagant performance but I’ve seen a lot of people say he’s the only one who really taps into the tone of the film – which is camp and ridiculous and extravagant!

    • I don’t know man. I can’t see myself sitting through Jupiter. Not a fan of the Wachowskis and the film looks too ludicrous to me. Who knows, maybe on DVD.

      I really have no trouble with Redmayne winning either. I thought Keaton was very good but not the best of the year. I liked Oyelowo too by I would have loved to see see Gyllenhaal or Ralph Fiennes win. But of course they didn’t even get nominated. Go figure.

  2. Great review Keith! I watched this recently and, flaws and all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Redmayne and Jones were absolutely wonderful to watch in here, I thought the movie looked stunning, and I had a good few laughs here at the witty humour that was spread throughout. I cannot argue for a second with Redmayne’s Oscar win, he truly did deserve it.

    • Redmayne was amazing right? I really thought Keaton would win with a lifetime achievement type victory. Redmayne surprised me. He went all in and it really paid off.

    • Thanks so much! Did you find the last 10 minutes to be incredibly sloppy? To me it looked like they were just throwing wrap up scenes together some of which made little sense.

  3. Great review! It did check off a lot of those typical biopic tropes, but I still think it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever seen. I watched it again last night and I still feel the same way about it.

    • Thanks Brittani! I’m anxious to see it again too. I was thoroughly engaged and those two lead performances surprised me big time. Did you see it in the theater? I wish I had. Movies like this don’t often make me want to see them on the big screen but this one is so beautifully shot. I wish I had.

  4. I’m still waiting for this to hit Redbox so I can check it out. I have like a week to wait. Nice balanced review which seems to draw attention to the same issues many have had with this one. The performances are where it’s at, so I’m looking forward to those!

    • The story definitely has its high moments but honestly it is about the performances to me. I tell you bro, you’ll be impressed with Redmayne. He is surprisingly strong here.

      Anxious to read your take on it.

  5. Great review, Keith. I just watched this the other day. I was very impressed with Redmayne’s performance and look for great things from him. I just realized he had the extraordinary voice and presence in Les Miserables as Marius. What a range! Anyway, I thought the film was unremarkable–as you say, as a biopic, it felt neither a love story or a story about science, the drawn-out middle, and the rushed ending. It wasn’t a bad film, but I’m surprised it was nominated for Best Picture.

    • I’m with you Cindy. The Best Picture nomination is nonsense. I obviously liked the film quite a bit but it wouldn’t have made my top 20 from last year. Really glad I saw it and I’m anxious to see it again.

  6. Great review Keith! I just saw this the weekend of the Oscars and I think we agree on the rating here. I like that it’s as much about Jane Wilde Hawking than her famous husband, and the love story & its intricacies are quite emotionally-engaging. Redmayne’s excellent but so is Felicity Jones, I’ve liked her since seeing her in Like Crazy. I thought the spirituality part was interesting too, esp that part when Jane was so happy that Stephen acknowledge the existence of God.

    • It had highlights for sure. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much. The performances and stellar and both Jones and Redmayne sparkle. I do think the film strong points are when it tries to go in different directions. I was a little bummed that it touched on so many familiar biopic points but ultimately I really liked what I saw.

    • Well said. I do think it does a few things different but ultimately it’s wrapped up in the exact same biopic package. That was a little disappointing. The performances sure weren’t though.

    • Thanks bro. They were really good and there were moments where the story served them well. But as you say, they should’ve had a little more to work with overall.

  7. Haven’t seen this one yet. I wanted to catch it sooner but it never happened. Thanks for the reminder and after I catch the film, I will double back and read your review. Looking forward to Redmayne’s performance in this. Thanks!

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