DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

The Theory of Everything Movie Review

The Theory of Everything (2014) movie poster The Theory of Everything

Theatrical Release: November 7, 2014 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: James Marsh / Writers: Anthony McCarten (screenplay), Jane Hawking (book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen)

Cast: Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking), Felicity Jones (Jane Hawking), Charlie Cox (Jonathan Hellyer Jones), David Thewlis (Dennis Sciama), Emily Watson (Beryl Wilde), Simon McBurney (Frank Hawking)

A Stephen Hawking biopic sounds like Oscar bait. That's what The Theory of Everything is and why it opens in November,
late enough to be remembered at the end of the year, but early enough to make an impression before other Oscar bait films roll out at Christmas and into the new year.

Everyone knows Hawking for two reasons. One, he's a brilliant physicist, whose theories on the nature of time and black holes have been widely celebrated and studied. The other reason Hawking is so memorable is because of the neurodegenerative disorder that has largely paralyzed him and made him reliant on a speech-generating device for communication. These two facets are the chief focus of this film, with a third being the story of Hawking's romance with and long marriage to his first wife Jane.

"The Theory of Everything" stars Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne as Jane and Stephen Hawking.

Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane (Felicity Jones) meet cute at a University of Cambridge party, where they spend the night talking on a staircase. He, working towards his doctorate, and she, a student of medieval poetry, make a connection and she gives him her phone number. Their paths cross once again by chance and once more after Stephen picks her up after church. She's Anglican and he's a staunch atheist, but they make it work.

Then, Stephen begins exhibiting trouble walking and moving his muscles. He is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease by a doctor who can't do anything but give him a life expectancy of two years. Though both Stephen and his father give her the chance to leave him, Jane instead vows to stay with him through this fight. They marry and have children, with Stephen's condition growing more debilitating, but Jane doing all she can to help him, from feeding him to teaching him to communicate with an alphabet board.

Jane's own studies suffer under the weight of this caregiving burden, but heeding her mother's advice to join the church choir puts her in touch with choir director Jonathan (Charlie Cox), a handsome widower who volunteers to help the Hawking family in any way he can. The film appears to be setting up an extramarital affair, but Jane and Jonathan deny their mutual attraction for the good of Stephen and the now three young children. More challenges lay ahead, as Stephen shatters the life expectancy he was given but grows increasingly dependent.

Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) smiles at dinner. Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) looks out a rainy train window.

Theory marks the biggest film undertaking to date by screenwriter Anthony McCarten, a New Zealand author and playwright with just a few sporadic international scripts to his name. His script is based solely on Jane Hawking's 2008 book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen (her second and apparently much less acrimonious take on her marriage),
which may explain why Mrs. Hawking features so prominently in the story and is depicted as caring, selfless, and downright saintly. Her ex-husband is also beatified as an always-curious, scientifically sound genius who respects his wife's beliefs despite disagreeing with them.

Good people do not make for the most interesting character study. This may be Theory's biggest problem. Virtually all of its conflict stems from the unfortunate neurological hand Stephen has been dealt. He doesn't cower from the challenge, retaining his thirst for scientific discovery, even as he is reduced to slumping down in an electric wheelchair while choosing words a robotic voice will speak for him.

Director James Marsh, who has alternated between award-winning documentaries (Man on Wire, Project Nim) and relatively unknown dramas (Shadow Dancer), does not uncover any unexpected value in this story. You learn a little about the Hawkings falling in love and their home life together. But the narrative always moves with strict deference to the biopic format, as we watch characters grow slightly older and less in love. Some may able to invest in that romance which resembles a mid-century British variation on the couple from Amour. Real people who are still alive and revered do not lend to the most honest, human depictions, though. In not wanting to assign any blame to any party, the movie kind of bores, leaving you to want a story beyond degeneration.

Redmayne does an impressive job of contorting himself to resemble the world-famous cosmologist. But the performance is less dramatic than physical and seems better suited for a Best Impression of a Famous Disabled Person award than the more inclusive Best Actor award for which he is widely assumed to seriously compete. Jones has more of a character to play. That she plays it well puts her at an advantage in an industry where female roles of substance are hard to come by. The situation is reminiscent of The Sessions, where John Hawkes contorted himself to portray a real paralyzed person but it was Helen Hunt as his sex therapist who got an Oscar nomination instead. While Hunt was relegated to Supporting Actress, the experienced but largely unknown Jones is being campaigned for Lead Actress, which may be a tougher category to crack.

If Theory features prominently at the Oscars and other award shows, such recognition would appear to be more obligation than achievement. There is precedent for the Academy awarding this kind of movie, from My Left Foot to A Beautiful Mind. That precedent along with the knowledge that you're watching a PG-13 British biopic that could only open in November or December invites cynicism and a more critical than usual eye. Because while it may have the look and feel of an Oscar-winning film, Theory doesn't strongly engage, move or resonate. Compelling drama doesn't come from the most obvious places and this film feels too obvious to truly compel.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Birdman • Nightcrawler • St. Vincent • Fury • Gone Girl • Big Hero 6 • Boyhood
Directed by James Marsh: Shadow Dancer | Eddie Redmayne: My Week with Marilyn • The Other Boleyn Girl • Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Felicity Jones: The Invisible Woman • Like Crazy • Cemetery Junction • Chιri • Brideshead Revisited • The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Charlie Cox: Stardust • Casanova | David Thewlis: Life Is Sweet • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas • The Fifth Estate • War Horse
An Education • The Iron Lady • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly • Amour • Philomena

DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

Search This Site:

DVDizzy.com Top Stories:

Reviewed November 14, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Focus Features and Working Title. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.