In theory, “The Theory of Everything” could have been a soaring bio picture.
The film that chronicles the life of physicist Stephen Hawking doesn’t quite reach that level, opting for a safer, more audience-friendly path. But it is an interesting film with quality performances from leads Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
Redmayne plays Hawking, who we see in the early scenes as a bright young scholar at Cambridge University with his whole future in front of him. That future is threatened when he is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease and given just a few years to live.
Determined to prove the diagnosis wrong, Hawking perseveres with the help of his college love and eventual bride, Jane, played by Jones.
The relationship between Hawking and Jane serves as the centerpiece for “The Theory of Everything.” While it gives the film an emotional core, it also serves as a crutch that prevents the film from providing more insight behind one of the brightest minds of our generation.
Instead, “The Theory of Everything” opts to hit the high points without going into much depth. Hawking announces in one scene that he is going to write a book. The book is a best-seller in the next scene, leaving the audience without any insight into the process.
The film also skirts around the infidelities of Hawking and his wife, stopping short of providing more insight into that subject.
It’s disappointing that director James Marsh, who directed the brilliant documentary “Man on Wire,” didn’t bring more from his previous work. Instead, it feels like a film that adheres to the standard biography blueprint.
What helps “The Theory of Everything” rise above mediocrity is Redmayne and Jones.
Redmayne slips into Hawking with such ease that it would be easy to overlook how difficult it is to have a performance this good. Jones delivers one of the strongest female performances of the year, playing a woman torn between helping the man she loves and living her own life.
Both performances are Oscar-nomination worthy.
They are the reason to see “The Theory of Everything.” This film lacks substance, but it overcomes those limitations with some pretty special performances.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “The Skeleton Twins” (A). In a year that has featured quality work from “Saturday Night Live” alums, this is the biggest surprise of all and one of the year’s best films.
SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play estranged twins Maggie and Milo, who reunite when Milo comes to stay with Maggie after attempting suicide.
It turns out Maggie’s life is in nearly as much disarray as her brother’s, prompting the pair to try to figure out where their lives went wrong. The reunion proves to invigorate both, as they begin to realize how much they need each other to fix their lives.
“The Skeleton Twins” was directed and co-written by Craig Johnson. The film is full of surprises, both in the story’s direction and the work of the two leads.
Wiig and Hader have great chemistry, which comes from their time together on SNL, but they show they are more than just comedic actors. There is a depth and range to their work, especially from Hader in one of the year’s most underappreciated performances.
There is also good supporting work from Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell.
Burrell plays a character far from the fun-loving dad on “Modern Family” in a performance just as surprising as the two leads.
“The Skeleton Twins” feels honest and fresh, with nary a misstep along the way. It didn’t get a wide audience during its theatrical release but deserves to find that audience now that it is arriving on home video.
“The Skeleton Twins” is rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use and will be available on DVD on Tuesday.