1996, R, 119 min. Directed by Matthew Broderick. Starring Matthew Broderick, Patricia Arquette, Peter Riegert, Dori Brenner, James Legros, Peter Michael Goetz.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 4, 1996
Matthew Broderick's directing debut may seem an unlikely choice -- it's a chapter from the early years of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman's autobiography -- but then Broderick has always struck me as a fairly cerebral kind of guy. It's a love story more than anything, and one of richly tragic dimensions to boot. The script, by Broderick's mother Patricia, borrows heavily from a pair of slim autobiographies the physicist published in the mid-Eighties, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman and its companion What Do You Care What Other People Think?, but narrows its scope to center on Feynman's (Broderick) lushly romantic first love and wife, Arline Greenbaum (Arquette). Strung together with a voiceover taken directly from Feynman's memoirs, the film begins, more or less, with young Richard's introduction to Arline at a party in Far Rockaway, New York. Smitten, he quickly acts on impulse and pursues the relationship, going through the standard (and not so standard) courting rituals, such as introducing her to his extended family and so on. All is bliss, and when, in 1939, Feynman leaves to pursue his Ph.D. at Princeton, they plan on marrying upon his return. Things, as Feynman would later observe, do not always go according to plan. While away, Arline develops what is first diagnosed as Hodgkin's disease and later turns out to be tuberculosis, at that time incurable and almost always fatal. Over the protests of his family, Richard and Arline are married despite the disease and she follows him out to Los Alamos where he has been selected to work on the creation of the atomic bomb. Already inseparable, the two struggle to put the disease second and love first, while the haunting specter of the Manhattan Project whirls around them. It's a wonderful debut film, rich in period detail and even richer for its subject matter. Feynman was always something of an eccentric genius, gifted with an understanding of mathematical concepts that rivaled Einstein's and Oppenheimer's, and Broderick revels in the youthful playfulness the budding scientist was so known for. A scene in a Chinese grocery in which Feynman challenges the shopkeeper to match his skill with an abacus against the physicist's brain power is at once hilarious and deeply resonant; it's Feynman in a nutshell. Arquette is equally good, bringing out the core of strength this young woman must have had in the face of such lovestruck disaster. It's Broderick's unerring eye for detail, though, that makes the movie such a pleasure: From the barracks at Los Alamos to Feynman's geek-genius mannerisms, the intermittent framing device of the bomb site on the Big Day to the well-chosen supporting cast, Infinity is a genuinely affecting debut about a most remarkable man.