Fool Proof

A dreary Gwyneth Paltrow leads the small ensemble director her Shakespeare in Love director John Madden has gathered to bring David Auburn’s acclaimed stage play about the mathematics of disintegration to the big screen. Pulling the longest faces this side of the Grand National, in Proof Paltrow plays Catherine, the remote, damaged daughter of a brilliant but mentally ill mathematician (Anthony Hopkins) who fears she has inherited his insanity along with his facility with numbers. As the film opens Hopkins has just died although he continues to haunt his daughter, symbolising her descent into madness as he tries to help her out of it. Complications arrive in the person of Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), one of her father's ex-students who wants to catalogue his deranged mathematical papers and Catherine’s estranged sister Claire, who arrives in a whirlwind of checklists to help settle their father’s affairs.

As Catherine mopes through her fractured flashbacks and her grim, unhappy present, Hal uncovers a lost notebook among her father’s garbled papers that might be an important mathematical proof. This news shakes Catherine out of her mood for long enough to sleep with him. With Claire looking for Catherine to leave Chicago and live in New York and questions arising about the authorship of the notebook, Madden marches along the familiar path between genius and insanity while skirting the equally tricky fine line between outright tedium and passable entertainment.

Ultimately falling somewhere between the sappy untruths of A Beautiful Mind and the hardcore tech-speak of Pi, Proof is a lacklustre, overwrought drama that lacks a sustaining tone or any element of surprise. Although artfully constructed in flashback, Proof just doesn’t add up. It’s too pretty and emotional for a geeky science movie, and too clever and humourless for a family drama. Hopkins does his modulated rant. Paltrow refuses to convince as the bereaved prodigy, staring off into space and mumbling, despite having the majority of the screen time. Gyllenhaal likewise is dull and stilted in a scattered, underwritten part. Hope Davis (who, through some freak of scheduling, appears in three movies currently in cinemas) does do better as the busy, uptight sister, providing some energy and bustle, but again this is a role written and played, appropriately enough, entirely by the numbers.

1 comment:

Pacze Moj said...

When I watched Proof a few months ago, I was struck by how absolutely invisible the direction was -- almost as if Madden tried as hard as he could to not add anything to the script/play.

Like you say: by-the-numbers ho-hum.