Theory of Everything Review: A Brief History of Winning Awards For Doing A Good Impression

So after complaining about Theory of Everything in both the Good Will Hunting and Still Alice reviews, I’ve heard quite a few disagreements on this topic. Apparently calling an Oscar-winning film “absolute toss” is an inflammatory comment. Huh.

With this in mind, I think it’s only fair that I provide more than a couple of throwaway lines to explain what my issue really is with this film.

First and foremost, there’s no story. Call me old fashioned, but I like my films to actually do or say something. There might be an arc. Some form of entertainment perhaps. Maybe you get to learn a little more about someone, or what it’s like to be them. We don’t get any of this for Theory of Everything.

Nothing happens. Ask yourself this – if this was about a fictional character would you find it interesting? It’s like a two-hour Wikipedia article. He was once a teenager. Now he’s older, but whoops, he’s ill. Now he’s in a chair. Now he’s marrying his mistress. The end. All that was missing was a “References” section at the end of the credits.

I’d have actually been far more interested in a version of this film that took one small time part of his life and focused solely on that. Perhaps when he first became ill, or when he was putting together A Brief History of Time. I’d certainly have been more interested in a focus on the period in which he left his wife for his nurse. There’s a value to taking a small part of someone’s life and developing it from there. Something like Lincoln or Selma, both “awards-y” films but ones that I absolutely loved, took a small portion of a person’s life and went some way towards explaining it in some detail. This meant you became emotionally invested in the story, the outcome, and yes, the famous protagonists. I just can’t say that for Theory of Everything.

It’s like everyone in the film decided to make a film about Stephen Hawking, and then left it there. Yes, I know why he’s super important and one of the most recognisable and well-respected thinkers in human history, but can’t you presume I don’t? Tell me something I don’t already know. This felt more like a tour of Universal Studios than witnessing the making of an actual film. Sure, you see all the parts there, but what does it mean? What are you trying to say?

For my money, there’s more artistic merit in something like the Lego Movie. There is a film that took a concept that should 100% not work (certainly compared to the Life & Times of Stephen Hawking) and turned it in to absolute gold. It was smart, creative and had a lot of heart. Again, this was completed with animated Lego figures, whereas Theory of Everything took a terminally ill genius and made it… nothing. Its someone saying “you know, I’ve made a film about Stephen Hawking” and sitting there smugly about it for two hours.

I think the main thing people take from this film is about Eddie Redmayne. I’ve lost count of people who have said to me “wasn’t he fantastic?”

No, he wasn’t.

I’m not saying inflammatory things for the sake of it, but that kind of acting role does absolutely nothing for me. I’ve had it put to me that he’s so good in the role that you forget that he is acting and isn’t actually suffering from a debilitating illness. I can’t disagree with that. In terms of doing an impression of a person with Motor Neurone Disease, he’s magnificent. No arguments there. But it takes more than a good impression of someone for me to be impressed.

I distinctly remember being on the train once and listening to a guy doing a hilarious impression of Alan Partridge. It was truly the most outstanding Partridge impression I’ve heard, and given my friendship groups, I’ve heard a lot. But would I have gone to watch that guy from the train starring in a film doing that impression? Obviously not.

Yes, Redmayne looked and acted like Stephen Hawking, and was believable in doing so. But so what? Why should that impress me? I didn’t get any feeling whatsoever for who he was, what he was trying to accomplish, what his life was really like. I saw an outstanding impression of the man, but I got no idea of what it meant to be him. That’s an important distinction.

To return to Still Alice, the reason I was so impressed by Julianne Moore’s performance was that she took a character and made it a breathing, living thing, with hopes and dreams. She was suffering from a disease (like Hawking) and you saw what it was doing to her, and how it was making her feel. She was reacting to it, not always positively, but you knew what was going on for her and could envision what it must have been like and why it is so unbearably horrible.

I can’t say that for Redmayne’s Hawking. As visually accurate as the acting was, it did absolutely zero for me. But it doesn’t have to. Winning awards for acting isn’t about helping a character come to life. It’s about playing “someone”. As good as Moore was, I’d hazard a guess that she won the award more because she played someone with Alzheimer’s, rather than her actual performance of a character dealing with having with Alzheimer’s. As long as Redmayne did a decent impression of Hawking, he was always going to be a favourite to win the award. It’s the Kate Winslet scene from Extras come to life.

Talk about something “important”, and you’re a lock for an award. You don’t need to actually say anything; just talking about it is good enough.

Theory of Everything Rating: I’ll stop talking about this film one day.

Check back in on Monday/Thursday for the latest review.

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