Stan­dard biopic el­e­ments make up Marie Curie film

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - RICHARD ROEPER rroeper@sun­ | @RichardERo­eper

Just when the Marie Curie movie “Ra­dioac­tive” seems like a dis­ap­point­ing, paint-by-num­bers biopic com­plete with clichéd di­a­logue and mile­stone scenes that play out like a filmed ver­sion of a Wikipedia entry, there’s a whiplash-in­duc­ing, dream­like se­quence set long af­ter Curie’s death, from locales rang­ing from the bomb­ing of Hiroshima to an atomic bomb test in Ne­vada in 1961 to fire­fight­ers dy­ing in Ch­er­nobyl in 1986. This is a movie with a deeply split per­son­al­ity, and de­spite some flashes of cre­ativ­ity from a talented di­rec­tor and cast, nei­ther the straight­for­ward biog­ra­phy nor the flights of cre­ative fancy are par­tic­u­larly res­o­nant.

The gifted di­rec­tor Mar­jane Sa­trapi (adapt­ing a graphic novel by Lauren Red­niss) begins the story in clas­sic his­tor­i­cal fig­ure fash­ion — by start­ing at the end with Rosamund Pike’s Marie Curie col­laps­ing while do­ing re­search in her home­land of Poland in 1934, shortly be­fore her death. Cue the flash­back to Paris in 1895, where the young and head­strong and gen­er­a­tionally bril­liant Marie Salomea Sk­lodowska is storm­ing down the street when she lit­er­ally bumps into one Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), and if there’s a more tired meet-cute than the col­li­sion on the street, you tell me what that might be.

Marie has re­cently been evicted from her univer­sity lab by a panel of har­rumph­ing and naysay­ing male sci­en­tists, who are clearly threat­ened by a woman on the verge of turn­ing their world up­side down with new dis­cov­er­ies and ground­break­ing the­o­ries. Pierre, a re­searcher of some renown in his own right, of­fers Marie lab space and a team of as­sis­tants, and de­spite Marie telling him she has no in­ten­tion of sleep­ing with him or even con­sid­er­ing some­thing as fool­ish as ro­mance, it’s not long be­fore they’re mar­ried and they be­come one of the most cel­e­brated cou­ples in the world — es­pe­cially af­ter they dis­cover two new el­e­ments: ra­dium and polo­nium.

Di­rec­tor Sa­trapi em­ploys “A Beau­ti­ful Mind” type graph­ics to walk us through the sci­ence, as the Curies embrace ra­dioac­tiv­ity in all its forms. (Ooh, but there’s a lot of omi­nous cough­ing.) In­ter­spersed with the march through time, which in­cludes a dev­as­tat­ing tragedy and a scan­dalous af­fair, we get a trippy ren­der­ing of Loie Fuller’s “Fire Dance” at the Folies Berg­ere; the in­tro­duc­tion of Marie’s grown daugh­ter, Irene (Anya Tay­lor-Joy), who fol­lows in her mother’s No­bel-win­ning foot­steps, and the afore­men­tioned flash-for­ward se­quences in which we see ev­ery­thing from a boy in a Cleve­land hos­pi­tal in 1957 re­ceiv­ing ra­di­a­tion treat­ment for can­cer to an ar­ti­fi­cial Main Street in Ne­vada, com­plete with man­nequin “fam­i­lies,” melt­ing to noth­ing­ness af­ter an atomic bomb test.

Rosamund Pike does fine work as Curie, though she’s of­ten tasked with mak­ing procla­ma­tions about how she’s go­ing to prove ev­ery­one wrong, “just like New­ton did!” Though well-filmed and well-acted, “Ra­dioac­tive” ca­reens from pre­dictable to the bor­der­line bizarre, and never finds solid foot­ing in ei­ther world.


Rosamund Pike plays head­strong sci­en­tist Marie Curie in “Ra­dioac­tive.”

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