Opening 4 May 2006
Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) sleeps through her 27th birthday on her front porch. She is waiting for sister Claire (Hope Davis) to arrive from New York so that both can attend the funeral of their father Robert (Anthony Hopkins). In flashbacks we learn that while Claire was “having a life” on the East Coast, Catherine was playing nursemaid to their schizophrenic father at home in Chicago. He was a genius mathematician who peaked in his twenties and then slowly “went nuts” as Catherine said. As his illness progressed, she curtailed her studies at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, to cook his spaghetti and praise his gibberish which he imagined still to be mathematics. Hal Dobbs (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a graduate student looking for a breakthrough mathematical proof in Robert’s 103 scribbled notebooks. He does make a discovery.
Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) adapted the film about “love, commitment and trust” from a play by David Auburn. This explains the relatively simple sets and the lack of real action. Once you realize that you are watching a filmed play, you can stop fidgeting about “where does all this lead?” and just enjoy the supremely good and subtle text and appreciate the interaction between four main characters, all perfectly cast. Paltrow is amazing as a young woman who has had to be the adult in the family, who is herself a genius mathematician and who believes that she, too, has inherited the family schizophrenia. Sister Claire almost steals the show as the “sane” sister who compulsively makes lists and wants to take Catherine back to New York. Her manner and accent (in the English version) remind me very much of Lisa Kudrow in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. Hopkins is perfect as the spaced-out Dad who says, “Crazy people can’t ask the question ‘Am I crazy?’” and Gyllenhaal is fine as the student who begins with ulterior motives and then falls in love. (Becky Tan)