The Theory of Everything is based on a book by Stephen Hawking’s first wife, Jane. Its essentially a love story about his ALS disease and her caring for him. Biopics for biopics sake are the reason biopics get such a bad rap. Not every story needs to be told. This is the case of a potentially interesting subject matter shoehorned into a slight film that might as well begin and end with a screen that reads, “For Your Consideration.”
Since the film’s primary focus was on the Hawkings family life, very little attention was paid to his academic and scientific achievements. They mentioned it just enough to leave the audience understanding he discovered something but still not quite sure what that was or why it was important. Most people going into this film would be familiar with Stephen Hawking’s name and his field of study, as I was, but not much more.
I couldn’t help compare this to another biopic about a brilliant man, A Beautiful Mind (2001). That film, about economist John Nash also showed his struggles with a disease, his love with his wife, his struggle raising a family and his work. Unlike Theory, it was not based on a book by one of the main characters. The film, while criticized for not being accurate, also didn’t feel like it had “Approved by The Hawkings” stamped across every scene. Theory feels like a toned down version of real life where any disagreements or stuggles have been redacted.
If the whole purposed of the film is supposed to be about his love story with his wife, then the scene where they mutually agree to divorce is the most anti-climactic moment ever. Maybe if we wasn’t still alive the story could have some more bruises. I don’t necessarily need to see the bad side of everyone, or need unnecessary drama (see my review of Boyhood) but this story is ultimately about a young woman who gives up her life to care for a man with a crippling disease so the struggle is already there. They just didn’t mine it for anything that felt real or honest about the situation.
I want to end on a positive note because this movie would have been insufferable without the wondrous performance of Eddie Redmayne as Hawking. The film was beautifully shot and Redmayne elevated what was essentially a PBS made-for-TV movie with no real substance. His ability to make you forget you weren’t actually watching Hawking was quite powerful. Plenty has been written about the problems with able-bodied actors playing people with disabilities. I understand the complaint but that greater problem shouldn’t take away from his specific performance in this film. The twinkle in his eye was enough to carry an entire scene.