I’ll be up-front; I was silently rooting for Michael Keaton to win Best Actor at the Academy Awards. I’m a sucker for redemptive or comeback stories, and after Mickey Rourke lost for The Wrestler, I saw a chance for the Academy to grab hold of the second chance it had before it and reward Keaton for the first major role he’d had in 6 years. But, in the back of my head, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle, and when I came across a website that was holding a contest for people to predict the winners of the Oscars, I wrestled with the Best Actor category for a good while, before I finally ticked off the checkbox that I was almost positive would truly end up taking home the gold: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything. Sure enough, when Cate Blanchett opened the envelope and read the name aloud, a small part of me was disappointed that Keaton had lost, but considering the work Redmayne had put into his performance, how raw and physical it was, and the subject matter it dealt with, I wasn’t surprised. It was a few weeks afterward that I ended up having the chance to see The Theory of Everything, which I did knowing pretty well what to expect, both from the Oscar results and from word-of-mouth. True to the hype, Redmayne’s performance was unquestionably the highest selling point of the film, and a marvel to watch. It was unfortunate, however, that the rest of the film didn’t nearly match up to the two central players.
Redmayne is Stephen Hawking; yes, that Stephen Hawking, and if you don’t know who ‘that’ Stephen Hawking is, you have lost a good chunk of my respect. The film details his early life and rise to notoriety, but mostly focuses on the relationship between him and his first wife Jane, as well as the debilitating neurological disorder that would eventually keep him confined to a wheelchair, unable to move a good 99% of his body, and necessitate the computerized voice communication device that has become eponymous to his name. First off, what works: Redmayne, Redmayne, and Felicity Jones as Jane; oh, and Redmayne. To say that Eddie Redmayne plays a character in this film is to so vastly undersell the sheer amount of effort that went into realizing this portrayal of Hawking; Redmayne completely embodies the man, from the beginning when he is functionally normal (albeit rather socially awkward), all the way to the end, where Hawking is so handicapped Redmayne actually altered the curvature of his spine due to sitting in the wheelchair the way he did for so long. If you’re getting flashbacks of Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, you are not far off the mark; Redmayne put a towering amount of effort into making sure every detail of his portrayal of Stephen was exactingly accurate, an achievement made even more astonishing when you remember that most films, including this one, aren’t shot in chronological order, and thus Redmayne came up with a chart to track the progress of Hawking’s disability in relation to where they were in the script. All of his work paid off and then some on the back end, and I could go on and on about all that Redmayne did to fulfill the tall order of playing Hawking on the screen, but this review would end up hilariously long. What surprised me the most was how up-to-the-task Felicity Jones is at matching Redmayne on-screen; she had by far the easier of the two roles, but in ways it is also more challenging. While Redmayne had physicality to rely on, all of Jane Hawking’s complexity as a person had to come from her, and just to say that she matches Redmayne when they are both on the screen should be enough to tell you how good she is. Now, onto the rest of the film: that’s about it. The rest of the film is note-by-note Oscar bait, and nothing stands out at all enough to warrant mention; save, perhaps, for the musical score by Johann Johannsson. This irked me when I saw the film; everything that the film should’ve and could’ve been, about one of the most brilliant minds of our generation, was glossed over completely with fluff praise and incorporeal dialogue, just to focus on his disability and relationship with Jane. It was only after looking into the film after seeing it that I found out it was based on a memoir written by Jane herself, which explains the film’s narrow focus, but in my opinion, doesn’t excuse the vapid treatment of what actually made Hawking so renowned in the first place.
I had spent the better part of a day a long while ago thinking about what films from 2014 would make the new list, and to be honest, The Theory of Everything was one title that popped into my head. I considered the incredible achievement Redmayne accomplished with his work, and considered it against the merit of the film as a whole, which wasn’t all that much, while also considering any items on the editors’ checklist that the film had that would necessitate anything close to a guarantee that the film would be added, of which there were basically none. I ended up dismissing this one, not convinced it had enough as a whole package to merit inclusion. Obviously, I was wrong in my assumption, but I still hold fast that I wasn’t wrong in my reasoning. This is another one that I think will be removed in later editions, maybe even the next edition; aside from Redmayne and Jones and a small mention for the score, there is nothing to this one, especially anything that anyone would have to see before they died. The validity of its inclusion on the list aside, is this a film that’s worth the watch? For me, only barely, and only because of the two leads; the rest of the film is too maudlin and unfocused to really work as a cohesive story. But still, Eddie Redmayne; gosh-danged hell was he good in this.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10