15 September 2005

Proof (Miramax, 2005)

Robert (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant mathematician, is rightfully proud when his daughter Catherine (Gwenyth Paltrow) chooses to follow in his footsteps. When his health declines, she drops out of school to care for him and to continue her own research by his side. After his death, she tries to come to grips with her possible inheritance: his insanity.

The latest in a string of aren't-mathematicians-crazy/reclusive tales out of Hollywood (see also: Good Will Hunting, Pi, A Beautiful Mind), does not stray too far from the path. Paltrow gives another award-worthy performance, and she is well-supported by Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal as Hal, a grad student who is convinced Robert was working on something brilliant in his latter years.

The fact that Proof was adapted from a stage play should not surprise any viewer -- the dialogue is still quite theatrical at times. I was pleased that the creative team allowed Paltrow to look plain instead of stereotypically bookish, but I do wish someone had given directions other than "If you want to seem crazy, yell louder."

On the other hand, the movie is entertaining; there are some very funny exchanges between Catherine and Hal, some very touching father-daughter moments, and lots of frustrations and revelations in between. Proof doesn't require a knowledge of advanced mathematics -- the only in-joke is explained -- and it doesn't focus on the work itself. Instead the focus is on the people and the work they do and the way mental illness touches a family. Like Broken Flowers, Proof is aimed at an adult audience -- not the adults who expect bawdy humour or gory violence, but the adults who can appreciate watching people interact and show emotion.

Buy the original play by David Auburn.


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