directed by John Madden
(Miramax, 2005)

Catherine has spent the last five years caring for her father, Robert, a brilliant mathematician. In fits and starts, he's losing his sanity.

And Catherine, who's also brilliant in math, fears she's following in Robert's footsteps into confusion and darkness.

David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Proof, won a Tony for Mary-Louise Parker as Catherine. In his adaptation of Proof to film, the role's taken over by Gwyneth Paltrow -- and, while she's strong, it makes me wish all the more I'd seen Parker on stage. Because it's hard to forget that this is Gwyneth Paltrow. Not an overwrought, tormented soul, but a luminous muse for the Bard, as in Shakespeare in Love.

I should be grateful, though. In a film about mathematical proofs, theories and a bit of physics, luminosity can be welcome for those of us who are math-anxious.

Much of Proof is told in flashbacks, tracing the life Robert and Catherine share in their Chicago home. She's dropped out of college to help him get through his days; her older sister is forging her own life in New York. So when Robert dies, Catherine is not sure whom to trust.

Her sister Claire (Hope Davis) who swoops in to curtly direct everything from what Catherine wears to the funeral to the sale of the family home? A graduate student, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), who's interested in the 100-plus notebooks Robert left behind (and in Catherine, too)? Or herself?

When Hal finds what may be a breakthrough mathematics proof, Catherine's real doubts begin. She and her father were working on it together -- but is the proof his? Is it her own work?

No one, of course, believes it's hers. A girl???? A college dropout???

The bones of Proof as a work on the stage show through its dialogue, more dense and explanatory than that of most movies. And its strength is Anthony Hopkins as Robert, and his scenes with Paltrow, unspooling an unusual, symbiotic father/daughter relationship that, barring math, is at the heart of the story.

by Jen Kopf
24 March 2007

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