The Theory of Everything ★★★★

I've read a lot of reviews basically dismissing this film as a disease of the week TV movie that you might see on Lifetime. Maybe I'm just too susceptible to this sort of thing, but I found this to be a hell of a lot better than that. It's extremely well acted, of course, but I thought the script was refreshingly even-handed and interesting. The main characters seem genuine and realistically drawn. No one is a hero, no one is a villain, they're just recognizable human beings with strengths, weaknesses, frustrations and foibles doing the best they can in a nearly intolerable situation. I also thought the movie did a fine job of not over-dramatizing moments of Stephen Hawking's life and turning his life into a series of plot points as so many biopics seem to. It simply presented the events in a natural manner. They weren't overdone, the emotional impact of the scenes that were shown comes from the stressful nature and the difficulty of living through such events not through any manipulative amplification on the part of the filmmakers. This is Life in all its messy, painful, thrilling, surprisingly humorous and often excruciating glory.

Eddie Redmayne is excellent here. I'm still not sure he deserved to win over Michael Keaton, but he's certainly impressive and I'm not shaking my head in disgust over the Academy's decision. I don't know how Felicity Jones stacks up against Julianne Moore in "Still Alice", but I thought she was spectacular here. I thought she deserved it over Rosamund Pike in "Gone Girl", which is something I never expected to say. If anything, Felicity has the harder role. Redmayne gets the showier role, of course. Physically, his performance, his naturalistic portrayal of the damage inflicted by ALS, the impish twinkle he exudes to suggest the inner life of Hawking and how fiercely his intelligence shines despite the cage his body becomes, the painful-looking ways he often must contort his body to emulate Hawking's circumstances, is beyond reproach. But Felicity Jones manages to make Jane Wilde Hawking's inner struggle equally painful and utterly palpable at every moment. Hers is the more thankless of these roles, much like Denzel Washington's role in "Philadelphia" or Tom Cruise's role in "Rain Man". As with those two actors, this movie would not work half so well without her recognizably human reaction to the horror that Redmayne's character is undergoing. Such roles are often ignored, but they're almost always crucial to telling such a story.

The acting and writing are great, and James Marsh brings some nice visual touches to the story (although he does overplay things once or twice) but the movie has perhaps a few too many moments that don't add terribly much to the proceedings, even if they do give the movie a feeling of day to day life being lived. But a better filmmaker might have brought more visual invention to this story to match the greatness of the actors and the naturalism of the script. However, Marsh does a fine job and overall resists the temptation to exaggerate the circumstances or to allow the music to drastically underline them. It's a solid, impressive film if not a particularly spectacular one. And it makes me eager to see what these lead actors are going to do next, because they officially grabbed my attention here.

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