"Hawking" boasts that it tells its subject's story "in my own words." Indeed, Stephen Finnigan's documentary on the personal life and professional work of English theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking is narrated in his familiar computerized voice. Trapped inside a body ravaged by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he operates his speech-generating device by twitching his cheek — a laborious process skipped over in this glossy, glowing portrait of the mind behind gravitational singularity theorems and Hawking radiation, which concedes that black holes emit particles.
Finnigan adeptly explains these findings to a lay audience through Hawking's description (he had practice writing the bestseller "A Brief History of Time") and dynamic animation. But the film loses focus later on, slighting subsequent findings, retractions and controversies to revel in his global celebrity instead.
Meanwhile, an intimate interview with Hawking's lovely and eloquent first wife, Jane, hints at how difficult their family life became as his condition deteriorated. However, his second marriage to one of his nurses, which was rumored to be abusive, is given mere minutes of screen time, and his children get no voice at all.
What "Hawking" does do well is open a window onto how his mind works and the passions that ignite his soul. With characteristic wit, he resists comparing a eureka moment to sex other than to say, "It lasts longer." And video of the pure joy he experiences on a zero-gravity flight is moving to literal tears.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Playing: At Town Center 5, Encino.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times