With the help of my SuperSpy Night Pen, I always take diligent notes during a screening. My handwritten observations of Proof, the new Gwyneth Paltrow-Anthony Hopkins act-stravaganza, began as they often do, with little notations and a couple of quotes, then gradually devolved into increasingly desperate scrawls reading "I don't care," "Blah blah blah," and finally, "OH MY GOD, JUST END." In fact, that last phrase became a mantra that I whispered until my actual deliverance.
Paltrow returns from maternity leave to portray Catherine, a Chicagoan who is unsuccessfully coping with the recent loss of her revered math professor father (Hopkins) as well as the possibility that the debilitating mental illness that sidelined him during his final years has begun to take hold of her. Catherine, a talented mathematician in her own right, decided to leave college in order to take care of her deteriorating dad while her uptight sister (a misused Hope Davis) made a cushy life for herself in Manhattan.
Enter Hal Dobbs (Jake Gyllenhaal, dreamy yet irrelevant), a former acolyte of her father who pores through notebooks kept by Catherine's dad on the lookout for anything his beautiful mind may have produced during his occasional brushes with reality. The plot then concerns itself with whether a mathematical proof that Hal discovers was written by Catherine's brilliant dad or by Catherine herself, and whether the earth will continue to rotate on its axis once assorted geeks, dweebs, and nerds get a gander at this supposedly thrilling mumbo-jumbo. (Oh, here's one more insight from my notes: "Math is boring.")
Proof was originally a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and retooling a stage production so that it works on film is tricky. The screen version, directed by Shakespeare in Love's John Madden and written by Rebecca Miller and David Auburn, the play's author, takes advantage of its liberation from the confines of the stage (the Windy City has a lovely skyline) but is unable to shake the inelegant theatricality of the dialogue. This is most likely due to the fact that the cast showcases more ham than a deli.
Paltrow also played the Catherine role in the London staging of Proof, and by now she should have been able to imbue her character with a little humanity and grace. Instead, Paltrow relies upon petulant and oddly deadpan histrionics, and there's just not enough backstory to elicit empathy for such an unlikable character. And I hate to say it, but Hopkins may have worn out his welcome. He had a great run there in the first half of the '90s, but the majority of his recent roles have found him overacting as if there were a gun leveled at his head.
Then there's that split-second of confusion whenever John Madden's name pops up in relation to a film. Of course it's in reference to the Oscar-nominated director, but I like to imagine how a movie would fare under the auspices of the other John Madden --- you know, the volatile former Raiders coach and current video game baron. So after careful consideration, it's my belief that Proof could have benefited from better pass protection and way more tackling.
Films like Esther Kahn and My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument have cemented Arnaud Desplechin's status as one of France's most inventive filmmakers. For his latest film, Kings and Queen, he uses the myth of Zeus and Leda, Henry Mancini's "Moon River," some shrewd editing, and a smattering of the abundantly cool Catherine Deneuve to tell the tale of a conventional family in a surprisingly unconventional way.
Kings is broken into two chapters and an epilogue, and it focuses on two main characters. Nora (Emmanuelle Devos, last seen in The Beat that My Heart Skipped) is a Parisian art gallery manager with a son, a sugar daddy, and a father in need of some care. We meet Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric) as he's being committed. He is a gifted musician with a gonzo lawyer and a way with the ladies, although he's not too pleased with his new shrink (Deneuve). These seemingly unrelated stories take their time in converging, though to relate how and why would be terribly rude of me.
Kings is a challenging film that may not work for everyone. Key details are stumbled upon rather than splashed across the screen. The humor veers between slapstick and dark, and Desplechin doesn't allow sentimentality to rule even when some emotion might be cathartic. The Queen, however, does rule, and her Kings understand, accept, and may even secretly appreciate this.
Proof (PG-13), directed by John Madden, is playing at Little Theatres, Pittsford Cinema | Kings and Queen, directed by Arnaud Desplechin, is showing Saturday, October 1, at the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre.