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With: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, David Thewlis, Harry Lloyd, Maxine Peake, Simon McBurney, Emily Watson
Written by: Anthony McCarten, based on a book by Jane Hawking
Directed by: James Marsh
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material
Running Time: 123
Date: 11/14/2014

The Theory of Everything (2014)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Time of His Life

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Eddie Redmayne is extraordinary in The Theory of Everything, the new biopic about Stephen Hawking's life and marriage.

It's the job of a superior craftsman, showing the deterioration of Hawking's body, succumbing to a motor neuron disease, but not the deterioration of his spirit. It's the perfect storm for an Oscar nomination.

However, there's very little that's extraordinary about the rest of The Theory of Everything. It's a soft movie, glossy, filled with stirring, soapy music, and hitting highlights but nothing in-between.

The lovely Felicity Jones, who played a lover to Charles Dickens in last year's The Invisible Woman, co-stars as Jane. At Cambridge, she has an across-the-room meet-cute with Stephen.

"He's a little odd," her friend says, but Jane likes his brains and his raffish smile.

When Stephen is diagnosed with his disease, and given only two years to live, Jane is already in love.

As Stephen's condition grows worse, Jane finds married life difficult until she meets Jonathan (Charlie Cox), who conducts the church choir. He has lost a wife and doesn't mind helping out; eventually he and Jane begin exchanging shy, lingering glances.

Time passes, but we don't know how much. The film begins in 1963, we're told, but no other time markers are used.

This is the kind of movie in which babies keep being born, and new actors are cast to play the kids at different ages, with no way to tell which one is which.

"So many years," says Jane during a painful, later scene, when Stephen has made plans to travel without her. In short, it begins as a love story, complete with (literal) fireworks, but winds up as a story of two friends. If the movie had not been about famous people, it probably wouldn't have been made.

The problem with most biopics that cover great spans of time is that they rarely have time to settle in and explore. The movie gives us impressions of things, a general summation of events, but hardly ever a real moment that feels deep and productive.

Director James Marsh once made documentaries like the beautiful, bizarre Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) and the tense, Oscar-winning Man on Wire (2008), but little of that skill or imagination comes through here.

At least The Theory of Everything finds ways to simplify Hawking's theories about time and black holes.

But if you want to see the real Hawking, and learn more about his work, Errol Morris's documentary A Brief History of Time (1991) is highly recommended. It did not win an Oscar, but then, as Stephen remarks, "Another award... what can you do?"

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