E=MC2 (1996): Benjamin Fry’s Drama, Set at Oxford University, Starring Jeremy Piven

Palm Springs Film Fest 1996–The academic world receives a nasty portrayal in E=MC2, a trivial drama set at Oxford University and revolving around a physicist who’s as much concerned with his work as with his sex life.

Overly simplistic narrative and a lead actor who lacks the charm or skill to play a supposedly brilliant scientist almost dictate the fate of this British meller as a natural candidate for the tube on its quick way to video.

Paul (Jeremy Piven), a young American scientist, and his wife Claire (Kelli Williams) arrive at Oxford to pursue their respective careers. Paul is ambitiously working on completing Einstein’s final obsession, the conundrum of wave particle duality, but he loses the funding for his project when Dr. Mullins (James Villiers), his mentor and friend, is replaced by a new, much more rigid department head.

Selfishly obsessed with his dream, Paul neglects his marriage, failing to provide emotional support for his wife who’s engaged in writing her doctoral thesis in anthropology; a constant bone of contention is that he has no time or interest to read her dissertation. With his marriage on the rocks, Paul begins an affair with his young assistant Lucy (Liza Walker), who happens to be the misunderstood–and later rebellious–daughter of the new chair.

The film draws superficial parallels between Einstein’s life (and separation from his wife) and Paul’s, but the whole academic ambience lacks credibility for anyone slightly familiar with this milieu. For example, judging by the nature of their conversations, Paul’s team members seem to be more concerned with getting laid than with their endeavors.

Rousing, “Rocky”-like climax arrives, when Paul courageously appeals the University ruling to cut his funding and defends his research project with an emotional speech about the importance of being passionate and open-minded about scientific work. Unfortunately, Piven is totally unconvincing as a scientist and it’s also hard to comprehend what all these women see in him.

The film is not badly directed or photographed, but most of the writing is schematic and the characters behave in an overly predictable manner. Happy ending on all fronts, career and domestic, is so shamelessly unwarranted that it might offend working scientists.


A Trident Releasing production. Produced by Andre Burgess, Benjamin Fry. Directed, written by Fry. Camera (Technicolor), Chris Middleton; editor, Clive Barrett; music, Michael Story; sound (Dolby), Steve Taylor. Reviewed at Palm Springs Fest, Jan. 7, 1996. Running time: 100 min.

Paul………Jeremy Piven
Claire…..Kelli Williams
Lucy……….Liza Walker
Mullins….James Villiers