"We have come to tell you that you have fundamentally misunderstood the atom," says Rosamund Pike as scientist Marie Curie to a roomful of stuffed shirt types. This represents the highest point of Radioactive, the new Amazon-produced biopic on the life of Curie based on the Lauren Redniss book of the same name. No amount of funny little nods to science stuff we got wrong along the way can save it from becoming another entry in a long list of perfectly fine biopics—though we doubt Pike's going to Zellweger her way to an Oscar, as was the case with last year's Judy.
Instead, think of the film like a series of boxes to check. Women underestimated? Check. Science that has since been debunked? Check. The slow realization that the polonium and radium (and by extension, radioactivity) discovered by Curie and her less-cool husband Pierre was killing them both? Check. Don't forget the haunted past, the bald-faced misogyny and kicky moments wherein someone says, "They want to make radioactive toothpaste!" and we all laugh and laugh, knowing it would surely mean our own deaths—but they didn't!
Pike carries most of the weight as the titular Curie. She's resolute and conveys much with her eyes alone. Still, in more emotive scenes (read, scenes wherein we're told it's time to feel emotions) director Marjane Satrapi (of the fantastic Persepolis) doesn't do Pike many favors. One pictures on-set direction amounted to "Try this next line with intense emotion bubbling up from someplace," again and again and again; Sam Riley as Pierre Curie feels blank and tiresome beside her.
Oh, it's not that the Curies didn't change the course of human history, and it's not that Radioactive is particularly boring (like Judy was), it's more like a struggle to enjoy the sameness it shares with any other biopic out there. You could set your watch to the story beats, in fact. Obviously, yes, this is based on recorded things that did happen. But how the story is told feels all too familiar and no amount of pretty cinematography—which it certainly has thanks to Anthony Dod Mantle (he won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009)—seems to help.
Worth a watch? It's the very definition of "fine." Just don't go expecting any revelations. Instead, be grateful for ths history lesson.
+Science! Drama! History!
-Same old, same old
Directed by Satrapi
With Pike and Riley
Amazon Prime, NR,109 min.