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Turning a play into a film often time is a difficult proposition. Certain scenes on stage and certain camera angles on film can compromise a story, so certain deviations from screen to stage are always necessary. The stage versions of Glengarry Glen Ross and A Few Good Men, for example, aren’t complete translations onto the screen. Certain scenes that are normally spoken can be eliminated with a glance and some must be created because something that would normally remain unspoken needs to be touched upon. Both of the aforementioned plays were also nominated for Academy Awards, and Chicago went from the stage to the screen and earned a cavalcade of nominations and Oscar wins. In this same vein Proof comes to the big screen from critical acclaim on the stage.
Gwyneth Paltrow leads the cast as Catherine, the daughter of a brilliant but mentally unstable mathematician Robert (Anthony Hopkins). Catherine is going through the remains of her fathe’s work, as he has died shortly before the film takes place (he’s seen in flashbacks and hallucinations), trying to put the semblances of his life’s work in order while her obnoxious sister Claire (Hope Davis) and Robert’s graduate assistant Hal (Jake Gyllenhal) ostensibly interfere for differing reasons: Claire has come in to take charge of her fathe’s estate while Hal wants to peruse Hopkins’ work to find the moments of lucidity in which he wrote coherently.
All the while, Catherine must deal with her own mental issues while a brilliant proof written by either herself or her father comes to Hal’s attention. And would’ve been a much more fascinating and probative work, as it has some fine performances from Hopkins and Gyllenhal, Proof could use some chemistry between its cast and something other than repetitive yelling by Paltrow to go with its good story and pacing.
Paltrow is a talented actress, for sure, but the bulk of her role is spent doing two things: reading lines and yelling at people. For the bulk of the movie she’s doing the former, as Catherine spends a lot of time talking about everything. But Paltrow, who played her on the stage as well, seems to play it on screen as she would on stage. It’s an unconvincing and lazy performance as the scope of her character seems to be either berating people in a cold manner that makes her eminently dislikable. When she isn’t being a shrill she’s reading her lines off in a distant, wooden manner. She seems to be under the impression she’s on stage, where it’s easy to get away with it, as opposed to being on film where it is more easily exposed. What gets exposed early is the lack of chemistry between Gyllenhal and Paltrow.
Gyllenhal may not have the pedigree his Oscar-winning co-star has, but he certainly seems to be trying a lot more to start some chemistry with Paltrow wants to provide. They don’t seem to mesh on any level, as the chemistry is forced and incomplete; there is supposed to be an underlying sexual tension between the two and it isn’t in existence. And it’s a shame, too, as the story is a good one.
The plot of the film is well-placed with several quality twists; there isn’t anything unusual or extraordinary, or even there for the sake of having a major twist. The story is nearly engaging enough to overcome an unfocused cast and serious chemistry issues.