Monday, November 24, 2014

The Theory of Everything Review

Stephen Hawking truly is a remarkable man. His achievements, especially while fighting his battle with ALS since he was diagnosed at the age of 21, are beyond extraordinary. He has literally changed the way the world thinks and has provided humanity with a better understanding of existence. Just trying to comprehend his Wikipedia page gives me a headache because it is so vastly consumed with career accolades and discoveries and important personal life information.

Thus, you can imagine my disappointment when his biopic The Theory of Everything turned out to be rather unremarkable.

It isn't a bad film by any means. In fact, it is quite good, but it also constantly felt safe and familiar, like I had seen it all before. Reminding me very much of the tone and beats of the former Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind, in a year when I have been challenged by the ambition and scope of films like Interstellar and Boyhood, nothing about the story or the filmmaking during The Theory of Everything felt audacious and unique enough to really leave a lasting impression.

I actually found myself a tad annoyed during the film by the usage of lighting, as I found techniques that are often times used more subtly during films to be ridiculously on the nose, specifically during the more well lit, positive moments. I noticed the opposite during various scenes, like when the bad news of Stephen's illness is delivered to his girlfriend, and the frame was overwhelmed by the drabness of a lifeless blue, a cold setting for a moment deserving of it, but I didn't find this to be jarring or bothersome. However, during joyous moments, like the first time Hawking holds his baby or a later sequence when he sees the woman he loves, sunlight pours in through the windows and makes the subjects in the frame glow almost angelically. Instead of merely demonstrating warmth through color and sunlight, director James Marsh forced me to practically squint in order to follow the scene. I appreciate using mise-en-scène to set the mood, but this went above and beyond and felt forced rather than natural.

On a performance level though, that is a whole other story with The Theory of Everything and worthy of any award recognition that is sure to come. Felicity Jones is excellent as the first wife of Hawking, Jane Wilde, and she perfectly compliments the show stealing, sublime performance by Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. Without yet seeing this film, I picked Redmayne to walk away with the Oscar for this role based on early word of mouth alone, and now that I have experienced the performance I will not be changing that pick. At his worst, Redmaybe was excellent, and at his best he WAS Stephen Hawking. I was blown away by the transformation and the authenticity that he brought to the screen, it truly is something special that everyone must see to appreciate.

The Theory of Everything finds itself running with the top dogs towards award season, and the best analogy I can make as to why I feel it doesn't belong in the Best Picture hunt involves figure skating at the Olympics. Some films out there are going on that ice and attempting the most challenging, innovative routines, understanding that to slip a little or not land a move perfectly is acceptable when the overall product is extraordinary. The Theory of Everything is the skater who goes out and plays it safe and simple in order to land everything perfectly, technically a fine show but no one will remember it for years to come.

Except, of course, for those performances. Eddie Redmayne? Give him the damn trophy now.


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