Actor Matthew Broderick obviously feels strong emotional and intellectual affinity with Richard Feynman, the brilliant Jewish-American scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project. “Infinity,” his directorial debut (in which he also stars), is an original effort to capture the early life of the influential physicist. But honorable intentions do not always translate into interesting pictures, and “Infinity” is a flawed movie that suffers from a weak performance by Patricia Arquette as the scientist’s grand amour and first wife. First Look needs all the help it can get in marketing a problematic, long-in-production film that is unlikely to travel far beyond hard-core fans of Broderick and American indies.
“Infinity” centers almost exclusively on the romantic and marital life of a man who was known in his milieu as “the magician” and went on to win a Nobel Prize in l965. Based on chapters from Feynman’s two volumes of memoirs, the script by Patricia Broderick (helmer’s mother) covers an 11-year span (l934-45) in the private life of an extraordinary individual. Narrated by Feynman, nostalgically looking back on his life, pic begins in Queens in l924, with Richard’s father (Peter Riegert) lovingly nurturing his son’s scientific curiosity.
Story then moves on to l934 and the fateful meeting between Richard and Arline (Arquette), an attractive and popular girl, at a teenage party. Richard is smitten from the first moment he sees her, and a courtship begins, with the two youngsters romantically hopeful about their respective futures he as a scientist, she as an artist.
The tender love story is suddenly challenged when Arline falls ill and is diagnosed with tuberculosis, then a highly contagious and incurable disease. Though they admire her, Richard’s family is understandably upset when he announces his firm decision to marry Arline.
Richard faces an ethical dilemma when Arline’s illness is later diagnosed as Hodgkin’s disease and both families conspire to keep the truth from her. But when Arline overhears her mother crying, she confronts Richard and demands to know the truth; their relationship has been based on honesty, and their motto is , “What do you care what other people think?” which later became the title for Feynman’s second autobiographical volume.
The real-life inspirational saga abounds in emotional subtleties and ironies, but, regrettably, only a few have been translated to the screen effectively. For example, after the wedding ceremony, Richard kisses his bride on the cheek because it’s too dangerous to kiss her on the lips. But the movie never shows how the couple sublimated their sexual drives, apparently without weakening their intimate bond.
Since the story is basically a chamber piece for two, it calls for two great actors and a director with a firm grasp of the deceptively simple but quite demanding material. But “Infinity” misses on both counts.
Arquette registers more credibly in the first part of the film, when she plays an adolescent, her adult portrayal lacking nuance. Neither is Broderick perfectly cast: Though he’s the right age to play Richard, his boyish charm is more suitable for the courtship and student years than for the mature years of a scientist who was apparently always aware of the moral issues involved in working on the Manhattan Project.
Shortcomings in the acting department could have been forgiven if the movie were directed in a more precise and sensitive manner. Either out of reverence for the characters or due to lack of technique, Broderick’s helming is too restrained, resulting in a static, old-fashioned film that only intermittently involves the viewer.
Tech credits are humble, as befits the small-scale production, though film could easily lose 20 minutes of its excessive running time.