There’s no denying that Stephen Hawking is an incredible individual. His work in the scientific community has been groundbreaking and his ability to overcome ALS is inspiring. So it’s a shame that The Theory of Everything reduces his incredible life and achievements into such a simple, surface level biopic. As Stephen and Jane Hawking, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones give the movie their all and deliver two very good performances. But, sadly, the script by Anthony McCarten isn’t nearly as revelatory and James Marsh’s direction occasionally makes this feel like a sappy made-for-TV movie. You hardly feel like you get to know the Hawkings and that’s one of the worst things that you can say about a film that covers their lives.

We’re introduced to Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) as a student at Cambridge University. He first meets a young woman named Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) at a party and the two instantly hit it off. He invites her to be his date at a prestigious dance and the two quickly fall in love. But after suffering from a fall, Stephen learns that he has been diagnosed with ALS, a disease that affects the muscles. He’s given no more than two years to live, but he and Jane decide that they want to enjoy the time that they have together. They get married and eventually have several kids, all while Stephen’s condition worsens. Eventually they seek the help of Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox), the choir director at Jane’s church. He begins spending a lot of time with the family and he forms a very close connection with Jane.

You may have noticed that the description above doesn’t even mention any of Hawking’s discoveries in the scientific community and that’s because the film barely touches on the subject. Other than a few scenes that have Stephen discuss his theories with professors and a scene towards the end where he delivers a lecture, the film offers barely any insight into what actually makes him a relevant figure in the scientific community. When one character remarks halfway through the film that Stephen is now famous throughout the world, it’s hard to believe it because hardly any screentime is devoted to his findings and why they matter in the scientific community. Instead, the filmmakers have decided to focus on the relationship between Stephen and Jane and the disease that made their lives so difficult. In this regard, the film has its share of hits and misses. It’s an undeniably moving tale, particularly in the early stages when they first meet. But as the film lumbers on through a runtime that seems to take forever, things become way too schmaltzy and there are a number of eye-rollingly corny moments.

Even with the weak material, Eddie Redmayne has never been better. He completely disappears into the role and successfully plays a victim of ALS without ever overdoing things. He’s particularly charming in his early scenes, which only makes his bodies degradation all the more tragic. We watch as he gradually loses the ability to walk, followed by the ability to speak and finally the ability to move at all. Redmayne portrays his character in a moving, sympathetic and uplifting fashion; his performance alone tells us more about this famed physicist than the weak screenplay even attempts to. While not quite as powerful as Redmayne’s performance, Felicity Jones is still nothing short of fantastic. She’s a radiant beauty that lights up the screen, while also managing to convey all of the struggles that her character is forced to contend with. Some of Jane’s choices towards the end of the film seemingly are decided out of nowhere and some viewers may fault her for this, but Jones helps us to understand her character’s decisions in a way that the screenplay does not.

Since the film is based on the book Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking it’s not surprising that there’s a heavy focus on their relationship. Still, after having watched Stephen and Jane interact for over two hours, I feel like I didn’t learn anything about Stephen’s scientific endeavors that I didn’t already know. The score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is quite good and the film’s final five minutes are unique and emotionally stirring, an incredible end to a very mediocre biopic, but it’s too little, too late. If The Theory of Everything didn’t feature two of the year’s best performances, it would have been much closer to being a disaster.

The Theory of Everything receives 2/4

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