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A Beautiful Mind Comes Undone

Proof, the latest offering from Shakespeare in Love director John Madden, pits the cold logic of mathematical certainty against the conflicted, often irrational nature of human emotion, as one woman cautiously attempts to tow the line separating them. She's not sure whether she is blessed with her late father's genius or touched by his madness, and maybe she's a little of both. If nothing else, she is determined to prove herself the author of a brilliant, complex theory that would far surpass even her father's finest work.

The woman is Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a lonely, friendless mathematician mourning the death of dear ol' dad (Anthony Hopkins) and struggling to figure out just how much she's inherited from him. Her father, a celebrated number theorist, spent his final years caught in the grips of dementia. Now, Catherine is beginning to question her own sanity, even as she labors to emerge from his considerable shadow as a beautiful mind in her own right.

Catherine takes a big step toward finding her smile as she gradually reintegrates herself into society. Nursing her father during his descent into madness, she became something of a psychological shut-in, cut off from any kind of healthy social life. With the help of one of her father's star pupils, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), and, to a lesser extent, her obnoxious sister Claire (Hope Davis), Catherine learns to live again, putting her personal tragedies into perspective and even exploring the possibility of romance.

The problem is, Catherine isn't the most cheerful person; In fact, she can be downright rotten, and while Paltrow's maudlin, understated performance is right for the role, her character's appeal is dubious. Proof, adapted from the Pulitzer-winning Broadway play by David Auburn (who wrote the screenplay with Personal Velocity director Rebecca Miller), is presented here as a decidedly serious, sometimes humorless affair. Catherine's plight is compelling enough, and the acting is first-rate, but this is a movie in dire need of levity. For a story about one woman's struggle to embrace humanity, it boasts all the warmth of an algebraic equation.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars