Do you remember early 2002, when a certain “generic” biopic won the Oscar over the mega-popular one-two punch of ‘Moulin Rouge!’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’? It was inevitable, we all saw it coming (or we should have) and yet the months that followed brought scorn and resentment over the Oscar winner, scorn and resentment that are still heaped upon its back. You see, I liked ‘A Beautiful Mind’. I still do. It’s a simple made film that follows some basic tropes that all biopics tend to fall into, and yet it was engaging and enjoyable and littered with interesting and beautiful performances. Still, it’s a film that can be taken for granted and dismissed as ‘by the books’ and, as I noted above, generic.
I never truly realized how good of a movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ was until I sat down to watch ‘The Theory of Everything’.
It had the comparisons running alongside it all year, many calling this 2014’s ‘A Beautiful Mind’, and it was clear why, for both films were essentially stories about brilliant men saddled with a disability (one mental, the other physical) who were saved by the love of a woman. The difference is that ‘A Beautiful Mind’ actually has something to say. While ‘The Theory of Everything’ is quite beautiful to look at and has a stunning (albeit obvious and at times distracting) score, but it also doesn’t tell us anything about the man in question, throws out jargon no one is going to pay attention to, and features two performances that are (while technically accurate and, at least for one, physically outstanding) quite boring and empty.
If I knew nothing about Stephen Hawking before watching this, I’d know nothing more now, other than the fact that he got sick, fathered kids and didn’t believe in God (or did he?).
‘The Theory of Everything’ seems pretty content with putting flashy filters all over every scene and regurgitating depictions of grief through showy edits (that call into question just how involved Redmayne’s ‘transformation’ really was) but never really settles down to tell us the story of this man, what he’s thinking, who he is…inside…apart from his crippling disability. I understand that explaining to us Hawking’s lifework would have been hard, and it would have gone over many heads, but the point of a biopic isn’t really to explain a profession but an individual, and I feel as though Hawking, the man, is never cracked open for us. We know nothing about him outside of the fact that he’s smart and awkward. We learn a great deal more about his wife, Jane, but sadly Felicity Jones is so dreadfully dull in her delivery that she may as well have not even existed.
At least when ‘A Beautiful Mind’ ended (which, by the way, is nowhere near as generic as it’s accused of being) I felt like I knew this man and I knew his wife and I felt their love and their support and I felt his pain and I felt his growth. When ‘The Theory of Everything’ ended I felt nothing but the urge to eject the DVD.
But it’s pretty, you know, visually.
As far as Redmayne and his Oscar win are concerned, I get it. I mean, from a physical aspect he really goes all out there and commands every movement, every physical deteriorating moment. Like I said, some of the flashy edits call into question how far he went or if his performance was sliced, diced and spliced to create something that looked more incredible than it was; but regardless, he is convincing as a man suffering from ALS. What he’s not convincing as is as a man. There is nothing behind those eyes, no real character to explore. It’s all surface, nothing genuine here. Charlie Cox is the only person who really shines here. Felicity Jones has the most fleshed out character but, like, she does nothing with it.
I wanted to like this. I mean, it was getting such a thrashing from so many people who were mad that Michael Keaton lost the Oscar, and so I was hoping that it was just vitiral and nothing really warranted. Yeah, this movie is just empty and that bleeds into every aspect of the film. Even the cinematography is overtly showy, pretty with no real substance, and the score, which is genuinely beautiful, is used to death in a way that makes it feel cheap; like it has nothing to say.
That’s the problem here; this film has nothing to say.