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THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING - ***1/2 (123 minutes)

 
Thursday November 20, 2014
 
The biopic is a genre that has a long and generally successful cinematic history.  The most challenging projects involve subjects currently among the living as inevitable comparisons will be made and scrutinized.  I am quite pleased to report that first-time narrative director James Marsh (whose superb Man On Wire deservedly won the 2008 Best Documentary Academy Award, and his terrific 2011 documentary Project Nim was the recipient of numerous accolades) has successfully transferred to the screen the love story between the brilliant English theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, and his first wife, Jane Wilde.  Their marriage lasted 25 years and produced 3 children.
 
Screenwriter Anthony McCarten, has scripted an intelligent touching rendition of their life together that began while both were attending the University of Cambridge in the early 60's.  Based on Jane's memoir “Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen,” we first meet Stephen just prior to his knowledge that he had contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - better known as Lou Gehrig's disease - a revelation that came just after he began courting the medieval Spanish poetry student.  Told he has two years to live, he is determined to end the relationship - to the chagrin of Jane who is determined to continue their affair no matter the dire predictions of Stephen's health. 

Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables) will be a serious contender for Best Actor.  Redmayne gives a bravura performance that demands extreme physicality and expressiveness.   His Hawking is so chilling and exact that the physicist commented in an Email to the director and screenwriter that he felt he was watching himself.  And, his approval of the script resulted in allowing the filmmakers to use his mechanized voice after a tracheotomy was performed in 1985.   Jane is played by the always dependable Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) whose acting is subtle and less ostentatious - but equally impressive.  The brilliant Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (who also composed the haunting score for Foxcatcher) has added a sweeping score that is both memorable and melodic without  overwhelming the visuals. 
 
There are minor problems.  Mainly, the toning down of Hawking's documented difficult nature, and the script's over simplification of Hawking's attempt to produce an explanation for the universe and time and space.  That being said, The Theory of Everything is more a love story than a formal pronouncement of quantum physics (for that I recommend Christopher Nolan's Interstellar which employed Hawking's colleague Kip Thorne to help explain black holes and space-time singularities). 

Marsh is able to transform a potentially depressing story of a brilliant genius who overcame physical and emotional limitations into a crowd-pleasing love story that will definitely have you leaving the theater feeling uplifted and positive.

UPCOMING NEXT WEEK:  Review of "Timbuktu" (Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film) and my annual Academy Awards Thoughts/Predictions column to be posted Friday, February 20th
 
Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and
Jane (Felicity Jones) pose on
their wedding day

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