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"THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING"
(2014) (Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An astrophysicist tries to come up with a simple explanation of the universe, all while battling the adverse affects of a motor neuron disease that's leaving him with limited speech and movement.
PLOT:
It's 1963 and Stephen Hawking (EDDIE REDMAYNE) is a cosmology student at Cambridge where his professor/advisor Dennis Sciama (DAVID THEWLIS) is waiting for his brilliant student to decide on his course of study. While out at a gathering with his roommate, Brian (HARRY LLOYD), Stephen meets fellow student Jane Wilde (FELICITY JONES) and a romance soon develops between the two. But Stephen has been having bouts of clumsiness, and after a particularly bad fall, he's diagnosed with a motor neuron disease that not only will eventually rob him of all muscular control of his body, but will likely kill him in the next two years.

Undeterred by that prognosis, Jane marries Stephen and the two start a family, all while he focuses his attention on the study of time and its relation to the universe. As his condition deteriorates, Jane finds it increasingly difficult to care for him and thus accepts an offer of help from her windowed church choir conductor, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (CHARLIE COX), who soon becomes a close family friend and eventually maybe something more in her eyes.

And Stephen seems to take a liking to his therapeutic nurse, Elaine Mason (MAXINE PEAKE), who keeps him on course despite losing his ability to speak. Despite all of that, he continues on his quest to come up with a simple explanation of how the universe works.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
The best way to experience anything in life is with no preconceived notions. Of course, that's pretty much hard to do once one has left young childhood, mainly due to one's past obviously affecting the prediction of what something new will be like, while outside opinions clearly have a similar influence.

Nonetheless, it's always nice to go into something new "blind," and that certainly applies to movies. After all, nearly everyone wants to be surprised by what they're about to experience up on the screen. Alas, in today's world, that's nearly impossible to do.

Case in point was my experience with "The Theory of Everything" the dramatic biopic about famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. Due to a friend sharing a review post that then showed up in my Facebook feed, I saw the one line opinion of their reviewer who stated that the film got sucked into the black hole of Oscar bait. To each their own, I supposed, but what stuck with me more was my friend's snarky quote that accompanied the publicity photo of Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Hawking as a young man. Sure enough, he looks like a young Austin Powers.

And thus as the film began, it was initially a bit difficult to shake that image. Of course, knowing what ultimately would become of the character -- he'd eventually show signs of being affected by an ALS sort of motor neuron disease -- it didn't take long for that goofy thought to evaporate, especially while watching the actor's uncanny physical imitation and portrayal of the character and real life man.

As directed by James Marsh from Anthony McCarten's screenplay adaptation of Jane Hawking's book "Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen," this is pretty much a straightforward biopic presentation, starting with our first introduction to the character during his days at Oxford in the early 1960s up through the several subsequent decades. All of which is a tiny bit surprising considering that some of Hawking's work revolved around time behaving in ways other than traveling from A to Z and thus naturally presented the literal and metaphorical opportunity for a non-linear storytelling approach.

Aside from that, this is a solid piece of work that -- at least for yours truly -- didn't reek of the aforementioned Oscar bait syndrome that sometimes afflicts pics such as this that work too hard to play up the character's physical and emotional suffering. While there's a brief obvious line near the end of the film ("Where there is life, there is hope"), that's pretty much it for any sort of shoving sentimentality down the viewer's throat.

And for anyone who tried to make their way through Hawking's 1988 bestseller "A Brief History of Time" but couldn't follow the science, there's no need to worry as the filmmakers have toned down such material (possibly to the chagrin of scientists and Hawking groupies).

Instead, this is more of a look at a marriage under fire. Not necessarily from wandering eyes, hearts or loins -- although some of that eventually comes around after many years have passed -- but instead from the impact that a progressively debilitating disease has on the relationship between a husband and his wife, as well as their children.

Redmayne and Felicity Jones (playing his fellow student, girlfriend and then wife throughout) deliver completely believable performances as such souls haunted by his inevitable decline and various setbacks. You truly feel for the two of them, both as a couple and as individuals facing a horrific situation.

While he gets the showier role, if you will (what with the physical transformation and imitation of the effects of such a disease -- all of which will surely earn him an Oscar nomination), she's just as strong and convincing in her part.

And while the film might sound like the ultimate downer, tearjerker or dramatic tragedy, all involve manage to imbue the proceedings with enough little bits of humor along with plenty of heart to make it all go down quite easily.

While it didn't quite affect me like "My Left Foot," the little seen (but superb) "The Sea Inside" or the somewhat thematically similar "A Beautiful Mind," this is still a strong and moving offering about facing long odds and nonetheless moving forward. "The Theory of Everything" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 11, 2014 / Posted November 14, 2014


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