The Toronto International Film Festival is, more than anything, an intense proving ground for the rest of the year's movies, and it's hard not to look at the advance reviews that spill out without considering the awards season that approaches. Sometimes it's hard to know what will hit and what will be dismissed as also-ran Oscar-bait, but James Marsh's Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything is looking more and more like the former. Our intrepid entertainment editor Joe Reid, who's up at Toronto now, missed the film, but he reports that the drumbeat is growing:
In my quest to navigate the entire Toronto International Film Festival on 20 tickets and the kindness of strangers, some things are bound to slip through the cracks. So I missed The Theory of Everything, the one movie everybody seems to agree is the breakout Oscar hit of the festival. Forgiveness please.
Let's take a look at those reviews. Remember that Marsh is already an Oscar winner—but for documentary Man on Wire. He seems to have made the jump to features very smoothly though, with The Theory of Everything getting praised for its lavish visuals and only gently chastised for its "Hallmark-territory" plotting. Nikola Grozdanovic of Indiewire said the film, which focuses on Hawking's early days at Oxford, his romance with his eventual wife Jane, and his diagnosis and battle with motor-neuron disease, was "Bordering on the bland, stepping into Hallmark territory on a number of occasions" but "still managed to melt most of our reservations away."
Variety's Awards editor Tim Grey said the film could play as a Best Picture contender, but noted that the early praise is especially focused on leads Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. " The film touches on topics such as human resilience, God, time, love and thermodynamics. What’s not to like? And it has a great backstory, with Redmayne at the world premiere in Toronto talking about many months of meticulous research, which eventually paid off with the blessings of Jane and Stephen Hawking," he wrote.
Tim Robey of the Telegraph also focused on Redmayne's work, calling it a "completely convincing" portrayal of Hawking succumbing to paralysis. "The most harrowing scene is almost wordless, as Hawking inches his agonised way up the stairs to where his baby son Robert looks on from above, dumbly witnessing his own father’s regression to sub-toddler mobility."
Leslie Felperin of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "doggedly linear" but says it meets the challenge of portraying Hawking's achievements without coming off like a science lecture. "The science bit gets somewhat slighting treatment, but in truth it’s almost impossible stuff to summarize in the first place, and the use of some stylized visuals of an eye in extreme close up and a few visual effects do well enough to stand for Hawking’s big inspiration about black holes and the origins of the universe," she wrote.
Toronto hype usually transfers over well, but films have occasionally hit big there only to land with a thud on general release. But The Theory of Everything checks all the boxes: a biopic about a fascinating real-life figure (who is still alive and loved the movie) with two highly-praised central performances at its center. The Theory of Everything hits U.S. screens on November 7, so the hype has time to build.