Biopics are tough. They’re tough to review and they’re tough to present in a proper fashion. You don’t want to blatantly glorify a human being and not show their flaws, and you also don’t want to just display a bunch of events. The events have to all tie together for a common purpose–to show growth or to make the audience think or to prove a point. While this movie definitely makes us think, I don’t think it fully utilizes its other desired purposes.
One of my main criticisms of this film is that we don’t see enough of Stephen’s personal transitions. We obviously see his adaptations to his increasing situation, but internally we don’t really see him grow. And it’s not that there isn’t growth of character, but it just isn’t pointed to. We see him just as human in the end as we do in the beginning. But what has he learned? This leads me to my next criticism, which is that the thematic conclusions were left open-ended and ambiguous. For instance, the religious theme is way too prominent throughout the film to just be left up to our imagination. If he is unsure in the end, then let us know–but sadly it doesn’t make it clear.
The acting is the most noticeable thing about this film. And Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking is going to go down as one of the great acting achievements in cinema. Besides its acting, the most impressive accomplishment of this film is its direction. No decision that director James Marsh leaves you scratching your head. This provides us with a distraction-less viewing of the film to appreciate it for what it is. While it’s a love story, it’s completely depressing. Marsh does a great job of putting us into Stephen Hawking’s shoes and making us really feel for him. It shows inside the mind of someone who you don’t expect to be able to relate. And through limited facial expressions, he displays such complex internal conflicts.
While the acting was phenomenal, I do wish for a more believable initial chemistry between Redmayne and Felicity Jones (Jane). It would have helped the audience relate to their relationship a bit more, since it’s already a rare circumstance.
Although it might not be a film that I would watch over again, there’s no denying that it’s really well done–especially on the technical front. It’s a strange effect to see the character that many people may find unlikeable in the beginning become the most likable character in the whole film.