Flipping through late-night TV, Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) is interrupted by her white-haired father, Robert (Anthony Hopkins), whose antidote for her insomnia is the cerebral inverse of Bowflex ads and the Home Shopping Network.
"Do some mathematics."
The only problem with this odd but tender father-daughter moment is that Robert is dead.
In John Madden's film adaptation of David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Proof, Catherine prepares for her father's funeral, including the unwelcome arrival of her meddlesome, yuppie sister, Claire (Hope Davis). Catherine occasionally flashes back to the years she spent caring for her brilliant mathematician father, who believed he was doing some of his best intellectual work while in the throes of mental illness.
As Proof unfolds, we ponder the price of Catherine's self-sacrifice in postponing her own studies to look after her father. Hermetic and friendless, it seems she has inherited nothing from her father but his neuroses and facility with numbers. Her social handicap is tested when one of Robert's worshipful students, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), invades Catherine's home in search of some undiscovered fragment of his mentor's former genius.
Proof joins Sylvia and Girl, Interrupted in the sorority of films about beautiful, tortured women who never quite convey a satisfying sense at what that pain feels like.
The role of the tortured Catherine has been played by some undeniably beautiful actresses on Broadway, from Jennifer Jason Leigh to Mary-Louise Parker, actresses capable of eclipsing their prettiness with their characters' emotional agony.
But director Madden (Shakespeare in Love) has made the mistake of softening Catherine's suffering by focusing undue attention on the actress's lithe, well-groomed beauty. No amount of dramatic fireworks and furrowed brow can distract from the fraction of tanned hipbone jutting out from beneath Catherine's inexplicably stylish sweatsuits. Paltrow's glow of opulent good health and expensive beauty routines belie Catherine's pasty geek solitude, spent locked in a cluttered old house swigging champagne from the bottle.
Paltrow has delivered the actorly goods before, as in her effervescent starring role in Shakespeare in Love. That charming frolic seemed more her speed than the gut-churning angst required in playing the writer Sylvia Plath in Sylvia or Catherine in Proof.
The screenplay, co-written by Auburn and Rebecca Miller (a director known for her strong female characters), is notable for investing the film with a more distinctly feminist vibe. When Catherine reveals a brilliant, revolutionary math proof she claims as her own, Hal and Claire are not prone to believe her. It is clear that being a woman in such a male-dominated field has something to do with their skepticism.
Ideas treated so passionately in Auburn's play -- like the thin line separating madness and genius, for instance -- are hardly given the focus they deserve in Madden's truncated Proof. Gone is the sense of Catherine's claustrophobic stewing in the juices of heartsick grief and psychological insecurity.
Madden's Proof feels chopped-up and rushed. Instead of scenes building to a climax, they disperse to the wind the various ideas in Auburn's play, allowing no one theme to sustain exploration. Grief somehow never emerges as a significant theme, nor does Catherine's fear of succumbing to the mental illness that consumed her father. The film instead builds to a fever pitch over the egghead equivalent of the brakeless bus in Speed: The true origin of the "proof" Catherine claims is her own.
The pressure-cooker claustrophobia of grief, of family and mental illness conveyed on a single stage set becomes diluted. Madden's film brings its characters out into the world, into the sunshine, into cars and department stores. But that move also siphons off some of the contained energy of the play.
In a work so much about the head space of its angst-ridden academics, making the scope bigger is not necessarily making it better.
Back in the 80's and 90's Belfort and Stratton Oakmont, and other big Penny Stock…
Louis CK playing a “good guy” ? He could pass for one of the hoods…
This film is about another place in time. Women got married and had children right…
Modus Operandi of fbi: drive a person to neuroses, or insanity; set him up for…
In the latest 'Emory Looks at Hollywood' episode, Judith Evans Grubbs, Emory Professor of Roman…