Gwyneth Paltrow can make you suffer for your art. One of the most talented actresses of her generation, no doubt, she gravitates to bookish material that can be quite deadly on screen: AS Byatt's Possession, for example, a biographical detective story that was fascinating on the page became sluggish and trite in the movie. Sylvia, Great Expectations and Emma were all competent movies, in their way, but also entirely negligible compared to the literary greats which inspired them. (And when Gwynie lightens up the results can be even more excruciating: a triple bill of Bounce, The Pall Bearer and Duets, anyone?)
Proof is another of her academic exercises - it's adapted from an acclaimed play by Rebecca Miller and the playwright, David Auburn, in which the pivotal question is who really wrote the revolutionary mathematical formula locked up in her dear dead demented dad's old desk. (There may be a more fundamental question for moviegoers: who cares?)
Don't get me wrong. Paltrow's performance is exquisite in this film. A vulnerable, grieving woman, beset with guilt and insecurity, hoping against hope that she's found love in the unexpected attention of one of her father's old students (Jake Gyllenhaal), she's like one of Tennessee Williams' fragile heroines. But this play (excuse me, movie) is constructed entirely around her need for sympathy, and after Shakespeare in Love director John Madden lavishes so many mopey close-ups on her, we may come to feel enough is enough and wish this frail flower would just go out and get a life.
A competent actor himself, Jake Gyllenhaal is no more convincing as an ambitious math student than he is as a middle-aged cowboy or a teenage marine, but at least he gives some semblance of being present in the scene, which is more than you can say for Sir Anthony Hopkins, who phones in yet another remote, disinterested performance as the deceased genius. Hope Davis almost reclaims the snidely written role of the sister, the non-genius in the family.