The Academy Awards are just days away—which means it’s time to buckle down and really get to know this year’s Best Picture contenders. Today’s deep-dive: The Theory of Everything, otherwise known as The Time Eddie Redmayne Stole the Show.
Name: The Theory of Everything
Tweetable description: Stephen Hawking’s health declines while his romance with wife Jane prevails (for awhile, at least).
Movie Math: The Theory of Everything = (A Beautiful Mind + My Left Foot) + (0.5 x The Imitation Game)
Release date: Nov. 7, 2014
DVD release date: Feb. 17, 2015
Run time: 123 minutes
Box office: Total domestic (so far): $33.9 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79 percent
What Chris Nashawaty said: “Though the film is conventionally structured and bathed in a for-your-consideration sheen, Redmayne’s astonishing transformation lends a touch of magic to the material. Even when he’s in a wheelchair, his torso twisted, his limbs gnarled, and his ability to speak severely limited, the actor conveys Hawking’s genius and humanity (not to mention his crackling wit). It’s like watching an escape artist who’s bound and gagged free from a straitjacket. B+“
Best Line: “There is no such thing as a standard or run of the mill human being—but we share the same human spirit. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.” Cheesy? Yes, but so is the movie—and honestly, so is life sometimes. Stephen says this onstage in front of hundreds, right after daydreaming about walking. The juxtaposition of that unattainable fantasy and these impressively optimistic words is striking, and gets at the heart of the movie: Everyone has problems, but it’s in our power to get through them.
Worst line: “Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was a baseball player.” —Stephen telling Brian about his diagnosis. He’s correct; Lou Gehrig was a baseball player—but that fact is hardly relevant in terms of the conversation they’re having and as a result ends up coming off as forced.
Number of Oscar nods: Five total: Best Picture, Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Actress (Felicity Jones), Best Adapted Screenplay (Anthony McCarten), Best Original Score (Jóhann Jóhannsson)
The movie’s Oscar history: Director James Marsh scored a Best Documentary award in 2009 for Man on Wire, but other than him, the rest of the main cast and crew are Oscar newbies.
What it’s won thus far: Eddie Redmayne is sweeping awards season: So far, he’s won a SAG Award, a BAFTA Award, and a Golden Globe for his leading performance as Hawking. The film itself won a BAFTA Award for Best British Film, and screenwriter Anthony McCarten won one for Best Screenplay. Jóhann Jóhannsson also won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score.
Why it should win: Yes, Theory of Everything is pure Oscar bait—but it’s also a visually beautiful film with awe-inspiring performances and an uplifting story to match. Redmayne’s performance as Stephen, faltering in health but still retaining his wit, is enough to carry the film on its own, but he does have some help. As Jane, Felicity Jones subtly shows frustration beneath her constant display of selfless compassion, but she does so without coming off as bitter or unkind—quite the feat, especially given Stephen’s stubbornness. Even in their darkest times, she’s able to instill some humor into conversation—like when she twice points out Stephen’s always-dirty glasses, a lighthearted nag presented during otherwise tense moments. Aside from its performances, The Theory of Everything takes on an optimistic perspective that makes Stephen’s setbacks all the more compelling—and that contrast, that overarching striving for positivity, makes for an overall enjoyable (and occassionally tearjerking) two hours.
Why it shouldn’t win: Theory of Everything’s source material, a memoir by Jane Hawking, is full of dramatic details about Stephen’s relationship with his onetime wife—but the film itself almost enitrely glosses over those unhappy aspects, instead painting their marriage as one with its struggles, yes, but that’s ultimately healthy and loving. Veering away from the facts is to be expected when it comes to films that are based on reality—keyword: based—but it doesn’t make sense to do that when the facts are what make the story interesting. What could have been an intriguing portrayal of a marriage filled with high highs and low lows is instead a fairly straightforward love story. Biopics are at their best when they humanize their subjects, but Theory of Everything instead chooses to glorify its central relationship, and to glorify Hawking—someone who’s already glorified as a scientist responsible for groundbreaking theories. Sure, the acting is stellar, but that’s not enough to earn a movie the Best Picture title—especially in a movie as unapologetically safe as Theory.
Vegas Odds: 66 to 1, according to Las Vegas Sports Betting.