- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

“Proof,” David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the 2000-01 season, might have seemed a more stirring proposition on the stage than it does in the film version, opening today.

The movie reunites the director and leading lady of the first London production, John Madden and Gwyneth Paltrow. Memorably associated on “Shakespeare in Love” seven years ago, they haven’t exactly misplaced their cinematic-theatrical flair, but they are inhibited by a more prosaic script whose limitations could be magnified on the screen. Anyway, the enchantment falloff is steep.

Perhaps the immediacy and intimacy of the stage is better suited to this four-character melodrama about the emergence of an intellectually gifted young woman from the shadow of her late father’s genius and decline.

Slightly expanded by new scenes and scenically authenticated by some Chicago locations attributed to the story, the movie seems to reflect an intelligent and attractive approach to adaptation. Nevertheless, it plays stale when it needs to play fresh.

The play introduces Catherine Llewelyn (Miss Paltrow) at an emotionally exhausted point. She’s obliged to reconcile promise and uncertainty after the death of her famous but sadly delusional father, Robert, a small but savory role for Anthony Hopkins, the strongest member of the cast.

Once a mathematical titan, Robert Llewelyn slipped into dementia in middle age. He seems to have spawned a mental and temperamental counterpart in Catherine, who devoted four years to his care.

A well-deserved rest is postponed by the need to attend his funeral, fend off the solicitude of an overcompensating older sister named Claire (Hope Davis) and measure the dependability of an expedient consort, a graduate math student named Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom Catherine has permitted to nose into her father’s unpublished writings and seduce her as a bonus. Dad materializes from Catherine’s memories.

Although too young to qualify as a dowager, Claire derives from a long line of thankless busybodies — the mama who bullied Deborah Kerr in “Separate Tables” and the aunt who locked up Elizabeth Taylor in “Suddenly, Last Summer,” to name two.

Mr. Gyllenhaal seems too young and callow to be either the emissary of the math faculty or Miss Paltrow’s romantic salvation.

The psychological perils of superior math aptitude have had a pretty good run between “Good Will Hunting” and “A Beautiful Mind.” The sex switch in “Proof” is more amusing than the author seems to realize; outing the obscure Catherine as an honest-to-goodness, chip-off-the-old-block brainiac probably would be greeted with exultation rather than skepticism by both the academic fraternity and the mass media.

Mr. Auburn seems to have given the Sleeping Beauty format a curious update. It’s difficult to believe he’s also breaking fresh ground while trifling with family curses, parent-child affinities, sibling rivalry and overnight romance. “Proof” never requires much familiarity with higher math; it never rises above a fractional view of loss and reaffirmation.


TITLE: “Proof”

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity and sexual candor)

CREDITS: Directed by John Madden. Screenplay by David Auburn and Rebecca Miller, based on Mr. Auburn’s play. Cinematography by Alwin Kuchler. Production design by Alice Normington. Costume design by Jill Taylor. Music by Stephen Warbeck.

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

WEB SITE: www.miramax.



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