THEY SAY that behind every great man there's a great woman supporting him. This saying is proven—literally, even!—by the new Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. It's the story of Hawking's romance with his first wife, Jane, from his nerdy days at Cambridge through his rise to celebrity genius.
Well, kind of.
When we meet Stephen (Eddie Redmayne), he's an awkward physics student who doesn't dance. Inexplicably, this charms the socks off of Jane (Felicity Jones), a sweet and beautiful student of medieval poetry. They've barely gotten to know each other when Stephen finds out he has Lou Gehrig's disease and only two years to live. Devoted Jane declares her love and insists on staying at his side. Inexplicably.
The couple goes on to have three children, and Stephen defies all of the odds by not dying. His deterioration is severe and life-altering, and—actually, I'll stop here with the life summary. You guys know who Stephen Hawking is. You know why he matters. You know what his wheelchair looks like and how his voice sounds. You know he's into black holes and... math? (I don't actually know this part. But he's super smart.)
I want to talk more about Jane. She's the anchor of this film, and presumably of Stephen's whole life. While I wouldn't knock her commitment to Stephen, I wish The Theory of Everything gave us more of her backstory and reasoning. Hawking's whole scientific pursuit is "how did time start," but how did they start? What did Jane want? Why Stephen? Her character is never fully formed; she's an assumed presence in his life from the get-go, but the film never shows us how and why she got there. Only when the eldest of the couple's three children is like eight years old do we even see Jane hint at her struggles as a mother, wife, and caretaker of a very sick man. It's a huge disservice to her character.
Or is that what they were trying to do? Focus on the how instead of the why? I guess it's possible. The stuff that happens—their children, Stephen's physical deterioration, his constant spark—is sweet, sad, and fully engrossing. Challenges are overcome. Odds are defied. Super 8 flashbacks tickle our Instagram sensibilities. It's stuff that we love in our movies!
And it's a beautiful film. Each scene is given a center, just like Hawking's theory about the beginning of space and time. The imagery is obvious, but effective. Eddie Redmayne's transformation from freckled physics hunk into a mostly paralyzed middle-aged man with a robot voice will surely reach Russell-Crowe-in-A Beautiful Mind level of accolades, so get ready to see his face everywhere. (I know I am.)
It's just... not everything. The film could have done so much more. I mean, (minor spoiler ahead if you know nothing about this dude's life) more screentime is devoted to Jane and Stephen's gradual drift apart than to their foundation. Come on. We all know what strained relationships look like. The Theory of Everything sells itself as a love story, but doesn't give us the love.