Although it may be imperceptible to the untrained eye, we are in the midst of movie awards season. The Toronto Film Festival started it in September and the New York Film Festival carried the torch into this month. One of the films ahead in the horse race is “The Theory of Everything,” which has some of the Oscars’ favorite elements: it’s an emotional period piece about a real celebrity with a disability.
In the film, a young scientist, the not-yet-famous Stephen Hawking, meets Jane, his future wife, just as he begins developing a form of ALS. It’s “The Fault in Our Stars” of astrophysics. Critics adored it at Toronto.
On Tuesday, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, the two leads, were rounding out third on the first stretch of awards campaigning. They were at the Lotos Club in Manhattan for a lunch and question-and-answer session convened by Peggy Siegal and attended by various Oscar voters. Apparently, science nerds at academic journals are also loving the film, for whatever that’s worth.
“When I got to San Francisco, all of the journalists were like, ‘Tell me about string theory.’ I was like, ‘Oh god,’” Redmayne said.
He underwent a remarkable physical transformation for the part — another thing the Academy Awards love — but the night before, at the film’s New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art, he was back to his matinee-idol good looks in a trim Gucci suit, three words that have probably never been uttered at the University of Cambridge.
Redmayne and Jones have been in major films before — “Les Misérables” for him, where he has one of the more prominent ensemble parts — and “The Amazing Spider Man 2” for her. But this is their first major film as leads that has a chance to break out. Redmayne’s parents even flew in for the premiere.
“This is definitely her first one in the States,” he said of his mother.
The movie’s release could not be more timely. Though weepers are as old as the movies themselves, from “Love Affair,” the 1939 Irene Dunne vehicle that was remade with the more famous “An Affair to Remember,” to “Love Story” in 1970, a new generation of stars, like Shailene Woodley and Rachel McAdams, have recently reinvigorated the genre and shot straight to the top of the box-office charts. The combination of attractive leads and the promise that love conquers all adversities — disease, death, even the complications of time travel, like in McAdams’ seminal “About Time” — have made these new tearjerkers a hit with impressionable teenage girls that form the backbone of melodramas’ success. At the premiere, Uma Thurman’s young nervous daughter Maya seemed weak at the knees when the actress introduced her to Redmayne right on the red carpet.
Redmayne, settling nicely into the part of romantic heartthrob, said the appeal of the Hawkings’ story is its universality.
“It’s an incredibly human story,” he said. Not the whole groundbreaking-scientist-becomes-disabled-with-rare-disorder thing, but the larger story of resilience. “In the same way, all of us have many obstacles, limitations put on us. I think people can relate to the idea of really buckling down and living forward and passionately.”
But reality, unfortunately, doesn’t always follow a script. Hawking would divorce Jane in 1995 and go on to marry his nurse, Elaine Mason. That ending is only revealed, in a postscript, after the final scene cuts to black.