But The Theory of Everything isn't really about Hawking's scientific research--rather it's more about his personal life, specifically his relationship with his first wife and the strain put upon their relationship by Hawking's atypical variation of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("ALS" or "Lou Gerhig's Disease"). And the result is a decent drama, but not quite as personally interesting to me as a film that went deeper into his research would have been.
Based on the autobiography by the actual Jane Wilde, the film begins when Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was still a healthy physics student. He encounters Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) and the two begin a relationship when Hawking's ALS surfaces. Despite the diagnosis that Hawking likely only has two years left, Jane opts to stay with him and they marry. As Hawking continues to make strides in his research, his body continues to deteriorate and between helping the surprisingly resilient Hawking and taking care of their children, Jane begins to feel unable to handle it all.
While some of the details do seem to be out of order, based on what I remember from watching the previous documentary biography, A Brief History of Time, The Theory of Everything still manages to tell a decent rendition of Hawking's story, but more from Jane's perspective, once the film gets going. It's still never entirely certain whose perspective the film is primarily going with, leaving it a little ambiguous. We spend a bit too much time in Stephen's head when it comes to the science and with Stephen in terms of time, but he doesn't seem to have much conflict to deal with in the story, the weight of that resting on Jane, who we actually don't get quite enough access to. In the end, this leaves the film feeling just a little shallow.
The end of the film also feels a touch pat and kind of reveals that there wasn't quite a complete narrative to the film. Perhaps if the film focused a little more on the separation and reconcile in the latter part of the film, it might have worked better, but as it was and perhaps due to the limitations of the source material, The Theory of Everything just feels a tiny bit short.
The film's direction has that typical prestige picture control with a nice little bit of effects to demonstrate Hawking's brain in action. It's a nice touch to help visually explain Hawking's scientific breakthroughs, but I think it distracts from the subjective viewpoint of the film being Jane's to some extent. Eddie Redmayne actually does an impressive rendition of Stephen Hawking and captures not only the slow deterioration of his body, but also that positive, goofy attitude that Hawking was known for, down to the bemused grin you often see in pictures of him. Felicity Jones doesn't fare quite as well, being stronger in the first half of the movie as she plays a woman her own age. However, as Jane gets older, Felicity doesn't seem to age up with her and I wasn't entirely sold on her weariness either--by the film's end, the contrast between hers and Redmayne's performances become quite noticeable and threaten to break the suspension of disbelief.
Still, the portrait that The Theory of Everything paints still gives a little insight into some of the internal struggles that some able-bodied people face when their partners become disabled as well as presenting a real life love story and a rather atypical one at that. That it's the relatively true to life story about a celebrity physicist and his family gives it the authenticity to help balance some of the storytelling deficits and Redmayne in particular does a great job convincing as Hawkings. But in the end, The Theory of Everything isn't all that different from your standard prestige biopic--meaning that it will be a predictably refined watch. Whether it stands out or not will be dependent on how much you're interested in the subject, Hawkings and Wilde, because it's not the filmcraft or the storytelling that set it apart. Still, it's a decent viewing. 7/10