Every year there’s that one movie, you know which one I’m talking about. It’s that film that no one loves yet gets nominated and receives a ton of awards because it’s the safe crowd pleaser. Everything about it is just average and it couldn’t possibly offend anyone. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Blind Side all belong in this category and this year’s new edition to that collection of mediocrity is the dull, uninspired Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.
This is the kind of biopic where you could probably guess every beat that’s going to happen in it. Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is a brilliant scientist who is going places until he is told he doesn’t have long to live after being told he has Lou Gehrig’s disease. Luckily, with the help of his wife Jane (Felicity Jones), Stephen is able to keep living and continue exploring his theories.
Let me say this clearly before I get started. This review is in no way a criticism of the life or challenges Stephen Hawking has faced in his life. I’m certain he is an extraordinary and a kind human being who has lived a challenging life. That being said, that is even more reason to be disappointed by what this ultimately is. Honestly, this isn’t going to be a very long review. The Theory of Everything has nothing outwardly wrong with the screenplay or the storytelling or the characters. But at no point in the whole thing was I ever compelled or moved or impressed by anything that was happening on screen.
Everyone seems to be going through the motions and the scenes you usually predict to spot in this sort of stuff. You’ve got the pretty montages that allow the writers and directors to skip over periods of time and not to dig to a deeper level of Hawking’s love and issues. There’s a big, drawn out speech where Hawking sums up all that were supposed to have learned from the past two hours. You even have the third act break up followed by the “uplifting” connection between the two. The film fails where previous films like 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station and Foxcatcher (I’ll get to that movie later) succeeded. Every big moment that would’ve given us a deeper insight into the mind of a surely interesting person seems to have been left out for what becomes a numbing experience. The movie does in two hours what could be achieved in 4 minutes by haphazardly reading over a Stephen Hawking Wiki page while listening to the most stock, inspirational music you can find on YouTube.
Director James Marsh doesn’t help make this anything original either. Much like the writers, Marsh seems to be reading the biopic for dummies book and he seems to stray from the recipe as little as possible. Things like costume design and production design are as great as you would expect from a big historical drama but all else is reminiscent to say the least.
Something I was actually looking forward to was the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. I first learned of him last year while listening to his near perfect music for Prisoners. I was hoping he would be able to bring some energy to this because of how amazing that score was. Sadly, even what I was looking forward to with this has disappointed me. The score is the same sappy, schlock you’ve seen in every other heavy handed movie that’s based on a true story. Music can make or break a film and here Jóhannsson makes sure that he hits every single message over the head with a hammer. You don’t need a stirring, loud song to be playing when Stephen Hawking is seeing his baby; it’s a much more powerful moment kept in subtlety.
Another poorly used technical aspect besides the music is the showy cinematography by Benoît Delhomme. It’s not the worst looking movie I’ve seen all year but it all seemed like it tried way too hard to look really, really pretty but failed. Theory lacks natural light and tries to make an overly colorful world. Unlike films by Wes Anderson and David Fincher, this visual style feels out of place and seems more distracting and artificial than beneficial.
The worst part about all of this is that Eddie Redmayne is actually pretty good. Sure, a role like this can come off as overly Oscar baity and can make any sub-par actor look impressive. But it seems as though Redmayne genuinely did care about doing a good job playing Stephen Hawking. It’s a performance that is based a lot on physical actions, but Redmayne manages something fantastic that hints at a much more raw and memorable movie. He presents a man holding on to his humanity even as his body becomes weaker and weaker over time. Whatever is wrong with this movie cannot be blamed on Redmayne and I would even argue it is only he that keeps the movie relevant in the awards season. Charlie Cox is also really sympathetic in a supporting role as Hawking’s best friend and later on Jane’s husband. A lot of people have given high praise to Felicity Jones for her role as Jane Hawking and while there’s technically nothing wrong with her performance, she’s just okay personally. I guess she played the part well enough but she didn’t do anything that stood out or ultimately affected me afterwards. I have no clue why people are so over the moon with the performance. Nonetheless, she is fine and as already mentioned Redmayne’s great.
There are so many amazing movies that aren’t going to get attention because of stuff like The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne is impressive but it’s not nearly enough to save this thoroughly boring experience. Theory leaves very little to the minds of its audience and what it does reward to them is unimpressive and has done before to better effect. Be sure to check the much more rewarding films that are out this holiday season.
Release Date: 11/26/2014
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones and Tom Prior
Directed by: James Marsh
Screenplay by: Anthony McCarten
Based on the Book by: Jane Hawking