With the voting for the Academy Awards officially closing today, I take some time to express some thoughts on a particular nominee, one I find less and less appealing.
It seems that every year, there is either one film or performance that gets lots of praise and love that has the opposite effect on me. Instead of being passionate about it, thinking it the greatest thing in the history of cinema, I grow to downright hate it. This year, that unfortunate fate has befallen this man, one Edward John David Redmayne, and the film he is touted (and let's be honest, touts himself) for: The Theory of Everything (which I lovingly call The Theory of Nothing, because that's what it's turning out to be).
Oh, so many correspondents have told me how they love Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, how he reached into the soul of a man who doesn't believe in them, how brilliant he is in how he transformed himself into an ALS sufferer. That's all well and good, and everyone can see what they want to see. However, after watching The Theory of Nothing, I had a conversely different and diametrically opposite reaction. I wasn't moved emotionally by Redmayne in The Theory of Nothing. I was left rather cold by it all.
My big problem with this much-ballyhooed performance is just that...it was a performance through and through. I never once saw Stephen Hawking up there on the screen. Instead, what I saw was Eddie Redmayne doing a Stephen Hawking impersonation. It was technically efficient. That I've always granted. It takes a certain skill to pretend you cannot move when you are a robust young man. However, should Redmayne win the Best Actor Academy Award for The Theory of Nothing, in my view it will be rewarding technique over true acting.
I look at two of his rivals: Bradley Cooper for American Sniper and Michael Keaton for Birdman. The former, like Redmayne, played a real-life figure (Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in American military history). However, when I watched American Sniper, I didn't see the Bradley Cooper of The Hangover or even Silver Linings Playbook (which I didn't care for). Instead, I saw Chris Kyle, Texan accent and all. He brought Kyle to life, a man who had no subterfuge but who was haunted by those he couldn't save. Similarly, Keaton's Riggan was a multilayered performance: he had to play Riggan, then Riggan on stage as the play's character, and Riggan slipping into hallucinations. Keaton wasn't playing a real person, but he made Riggan real.
|Everything is going according to plan...|
Redmayne, on the other hand, didn't. Instead, his performance was all about the mechanics of his physical transformation. It was a good transformation (save for the final scene, where Hawking magically gets up from his chair before spouting platitudes like "While there is life there is hope", a line which he stole from the Third Doctor on Doctor Who). Yes, Redmayne did a great job in the physical aspect, if you really look at The Theory of Nothing, you find a practically perfect being. Even the fact that he dumped his very loyal wife for his mistress is treated rather genteel-like. No wonder Hawking approves of The Theory of Nothing, for it veers dangerously close to hagiography. It's one of those 'triumph of the human spirit' features where the main character has virtually no flaws.
That in itself is already something that troubles me, but in terms of performance I never felt Redmayne made a case as to why I should care about/for Stephen Hawking. Granted, I haven't seen it, but I've heard greater praise for Redmayne's Oscar rival Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as Hawking in the television film Hawking. To me, Redmayne didn't communicate who Stephen Hawking was or why he is so important. The only thing Eddie Redmayne communicated was that Eddie Redmayne could play a man with a physical disability somewhat convincingly.
Again and again, as I watched The Theory of Nothing, and as I reflect on it after seeing it, I could never see Stephen Hawking. I don't just mean just in terms of the performance, where I only saw a great impersonation. I mean that I also never saw who Hawking is, what made him who he was, what kind of person he is. It was to me a competent but blank performance, hollow in its core.
As such, the love he is getting is puzzling to me. Then again, Eddie Redmayne is the perfect storm of Oscar-winning Best Actor performances. He's playing a real-life person (seven out of ten Best Actor wins were for biopics in the last decade). He's playing a disabled person, which is seen as being a sign of a great actor (see Daniel Day-Lewis and Jane Wyman among others). He is also British, which in Hollywood is mistaken for being a greater talent than an American.
Finally, I think Eddie Redmayne has been campaigning for the Oscar since he got the script. He is no fool: he knew that a part like this would boost his chances for the Oscar. He's playing this 'aw-shucks' persona in his interviews, channeling a little Hugh Grant to that endearing, slightly bumbling and eager young man whenever picking up awards or speaking to the press. I find those presentations better performances than The Theory of Nothing, because it suggests he isn't campaigning. It is probably just me, but I find his interviews and acceptance speeches like his performance in the film: cold, calculated, methodical, with nary a hint of real humanity in them.
Like the film, all those speeches (minus the Globes, where Keaton clearly outshone him), all those press talks, are pre-planned to sell him to Academy voters. I don't begrudge him this, for I'm sure all the nominees and also-rans campaigned for the Oscar. Redmayne, however, is less subtle in his efforts. After the Globes speech, where Redmayne came across as a little chilly and Keaton spoke from the heart, the former learned his lesson. He had to up his game and be more Keatonesque. BAFTA (which made its feelings clear about who they were backing in Best Actor by trotting out Hawking to present an award the same night), proved Redmayne could pull on heartstrings.
Well, except for mine, where to me it still comes across as schtick.
In short, there are two reasons I don't like Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. One: the performance was technically efficient but remote and cold to me. Him winning Best Actor is to reward technique, not technique AND emotion. Two, he has been campaigning openly for the Oscar, and everything connected to The Theory of Everything: the film itself, the performances, the interviews, the speeches, are all geared towards getting prizes for the final product, and Eddie Redmayne may demur, but he's been working harder to win this election than Hillary Clinton. Redmayne's naked and unabashed Oscar schtupping would have shocked even Chill Wills.
Once Eddie Redmayne got the Screen Actors Guild Award, the momentum for Keaton went cold and people began rushing to Redmayne to win. He may very well win, and he has a very strong chance to do so. It's not a lock like J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. Michael Keaton could still pull it off, and Bradley Cooper could benefit from any vote-splitting. Right now, I think Eddie Redmayne has won. For me, that's a terrible, terrible shame. He will win for not moving physically and not moving emotionally.
At least there's one consolation. Jupiter Ascending can now advertise "Academy Award-winner Eddie Redmayne", showcasing the (future) Oscar-winner in a role I think is more attune to his true acting style.
|I WANT TO THANK THE ACADEMY!|