A biopic can sometimes be a frustrating thing to dive into. Too many times recently it seems like they are some sort of manufactured award-winner that is out to gain acclaim rather than leaving a mark as something new and innovative (even though so many of the people they are portraying do just that). In the last few years, we have seen looks at the lives of kings and queens, social network moguls, and men in technology that are paving the way. The Theory of Everything never tries to be more than a reflection and glimpse into the life of Stephen Hawking, but what is frustrating is the director’s lack of creativity with the mind of the great astrophysicist.
The film follows Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) as he meets the woman who he would later marry, Jane (Felicity Jones), and chronicles their life together and the impact of his work and condition on their lives and marriage.
The story soars at times thanks to the award-worthy work by both Redmayne and Jones with the former in particular becoming completely engrossed in the role to the point where he and the actual Stephen Hawking are utterly unrecognizable. Redmayne gives this humanity to a man who’s mind would shape so much of our science today and his subtle humor and liveliness was something that made the at times droning script more buoyant.
But where the film starts to falter is in the direction by James Marsh that is never poor, but always lacking in something that makes this film stand out amongst the rest of the biopics. There are moments when Marsh uses some creative techniques to allow the audience into the head of Hawking. In one instance, as he sits in his room waiting for Jane to return to help him put a sweater on, he looks into the fire in front of him and as the sparks crackle in the air, there is a brief moment where the fire dances in the eyes of Hawking as he starts to dive into the universe.
The moment is beautiful and is a wonderful takeaway from the relatively atypical story that runs through the trials and tribulations of living with a genius mind that has disabilities. Luckily for the film, Jones is there to catch it when it falls.
After the marriage, the plot shifts to focus more on Jane and how she is taking the full-time job of being there for Stephen as he struggles to complete his work with his disability continuing to hinder him more and more as the days progress. Jones is able to capture the frustration and subtle anger that she has with the predicament very well so there is always some empathy with both sides instead of painting the picture one way.
Overall, the film has fine moments and will definitely be an award-contender, but it is yet another example of a generic biopic that doesn’t do the justice to its subject that it should. In The Social Network, the pulsing noise of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score couples with the cog-like mind of Mark Zuckerberg as he tries to create Facebook. In The King’s Speech, the impeccable chemistry between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush work off each other enough to make the progression feel like it is taking place.
The Theory of Everything is covering a great mind, but never uses the capabilities of cinema to show us that something magical is working up there. Instead, it is completely ingrained with telling us a romance story, which is fine, but left me wanting more.