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A Too Brief History of Everything

The actors’ dazzling performances bring greatness to a rushed film

You might think while watching James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything that the people who made this movie have never been in a bar. There are several pub scenes, each lit in a filmy sort of blue probably meant to evoke the smoky drinking establishments of a previous era. Instead, it suggests the faux-night of a B movie.  It’s indicative of much of the film: excellent actors, ever-so-English settings and something just not quite right.

The Theory of Everything follows the love story of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), one of the world’s most famous physicists and the young scholar who becomes his first wife (on whose memoir Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is based). They fall in love at Cambridge, seemingly because they are the only two members of the opposite sex who are capable of having a conversation. Very quickly, Stephen is diagnosed with motor neuron disease (ALS), and Jane, quite firmly, decides to stay with him. 

There’s a certain danger, in a story like this, of anticipating the part we’re all familiar with — the part where Hawking gives the intellectual finger to every challenge life throws at him and writes A Brief History of Time. And while The Theory of Everything takes its time getting there, it also simultaneously seems to be in a big hurry, breezing past milestones and failing to give a sense of Hawking’s level of renown. 

Redmayne and Jones are fantastic, and it’s wonderful to see a biopic that includes the woman next to the famous man, but there’s no there to their relationship, or their family, which grows with seemingly no parenting effort whatsoever. Eventually, when Jane grows frustrated, she does some angry vacuuming, but there are layers and complexities to this relationship — and to Hawking’s scientific work — that Marsh never shows. 

Everything is shiny and burnished, cutesy-ed up with pretend home movies as if this were the romance of the century and not the story it really is: one of two people falling in love and expecting certain things from the future — things that turn out entirely differently.  The normalcy of this idea, juxtaposed with Stephen’s illness and genius and Jane’s fortitude and strength, is the best thing about a film that’s at odds with itself. (Bijou Art Cinemas)