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A brilliant mind: Part biography, part drama, ‘The Theory of Everything’ is really a love story

Eddie Redmayne stars as physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”

Eddie Redmayne stars as physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”

If “A Beautiful Mind” met with “My Left Foot” and produced a perfectly ordinary biopic/romance, that would be “The Theory of Everything.”

This is a well-made, well-acted but unexceptional film about one of the most exceptional figures of the last half-century.

In the opening segment of “The Theory of Everything,” the young Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his best mate are bicycling recklessly through Cambridge, laughing the laugh of the unbridled. If the scene isn’t cliched enough, the chip-chip-cheerio music hammers it home. You see? The great Stephen Hawking wasn’t always a bent figure in a wheelchair, communicating through a speech-generating device.

It’s the mid-1960s. Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen is a brilliant physics student who infuriates his classmates by studying for only about an hour a day and yet easily outshining them. His head almost always bowed, his oversized glasses slightly crooked, a mop of hair covering his forehead, Stephen looks like an academic Beatle or Rolling Stone – and at a party one night, all he has to do is gaze across the room and he catches the fancy of the fetching Jane (Felicity Jones, luminous with her slight overbite and her blazing, blue-green eyes).

Directed by James Marsh and adapted by Anthony McCarten from Jane Hawking’s memoir, “The Theory of Everything” embarks on a familiar path – well, two familiar paths.

There’s the story of Stephen’s romance with Jane: his awkward but tender initial gestures of affection, the moment their hands first touch, a lovely dance under spectacular fireworks, home movie-style footage of their wedding.

But even as Stephen was dazzling his professors with his revolutionary ideas about black holes and the nature of time, he was beginning to experience the first symptoms of a motor neuron disease related to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease: difficulties gripping a pen, struggles maintaining his balance.

One day, Stephen collapses head first on the pavement. After a series of tests, a doctor delivers the news: Stephen will lose nearly all ability to control his movements – everything from the ability to walk to his speech to simply swallowing. He will be dead within two years.

“What about my brain?” asks Stephen.

Your mind will continue to function, replies the doctor. But eventually no one will know what you’re thinking.

Redmayne is amazing. He captures Hawking’s physical deterioration one excruciating increment at a time. As Stephen delivered groundbreaking work on singularity theorem concepts and quantum mechanics, he went from crutches to a wheelchair, from speaking in a slurred voice to using alphabet boards and later computer technology to communicate.

We get perfunctory scenes of Stephen struggling to eat a single bite of food while his vibrant wife and his friends laugh it up, and down champagne; Stephen literally crawling up the stairs and collapsing in frustration; Stephen’s eyes welling up as his wife holds his face and tells him she still loves him.

We see evidence of Hawking’s achievements – his worldwide celebrity, an audience with the queen, bookstores showcasing his latest best-seller – but “The Theory of Everything” is primarily about the relationship between Stephen and Jane, which is irrefutably a love story.

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