The Theory of Everything

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Man, the boy can act.

Yet another addition to the increasing abundant amount of biopics released in 2014, director James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything tells the story of Stephen Hawking, and how the tragic case of his motor neuron disease affected his life, and more importantly, his love life. From an aspiring physicist to a terminally-ill patient, the plot is interesting enough to maintain attention to the film, though never enough to truly captivate the audience.

As far as performances go, The Theory of Everything is one of the best of the year. Eddie Redmayne is incredible as Hawking; his mannerisms perfect, pained emotion sprawled over his face and limp hands delicately poised. While Keaton looks to be the frontrunner for his turn in Birdman, an Oscar is an achievable, and deserving award for a man of Redmayne’s talents. Felicity Jones, too, portrays Hawking’s strong-willed wife with superb subtlety. Her hinted frustration and tragic admiration of Hawking is conveyed with aplomb by Jones. Her performance is only overshadowed by Redmayne.

It’s a shame then, that such a complex and intriguing performance is burdened by an underdeveloped and shallow character. The portrayal of Hawking’s terrifying motor neuron disease is moving and sentimental while rarely being manipulative. The raw showcase of such a frightening and difficult disease is deserving of more appreciation by its audience: to act in such a way as to make having the disease completely believable is incredibly challenging, taking every last ounce of energy. And while the depiction of Hawking’s disease is spot-on, that’s sadly all we get to see: our view of Hawking’s character never delves under the skin, showing the damage it causes but never Hawking’s own sentiments towards it. Redmayne’s character becomes a vehicle for the disease – a huge negative of the film when considering its ambition.

And while The Theory of Everything does wonders to portray the romance weaved throughout Hawking’s life, you can’t help but feel that this biopic is one big opportunity missed; Stephen Hawking is a spectacular character and deserves more attention towards other aspects of his life – his overwhelming intelligence and achievements are mentioned and shown, but all play second-fiddle to a wavering, melodramatic romance that may not be out of place in an ITV soap. A much more expansive portrayal of Hawking’s life would work wonders: the flick’s potential to rivet is degraded into a film that merely manages to uphold interest.

As far as biopics go, The Theory of Everything is much more entertaining than most. Yet it cannot escape biopic conformities; aside from incongruous cinematography, there is very little to set this flick apart from its competition. It contains outstanding performances, but so do  Mr. Turner and The Imitation Game, 2014’s other critically-acclaimed non-fictional character studies. The Theory of Everthing is worth watching for the performances alone – but the film is only a decent one, with its rather confined plot rendering it unable to excel.

– Gus Edgar