Is everything random "or is there a Grand Design?" muses Albert Einstein at the opening of the film. And we are left with the ultimate conclusion that where true love is concerned at least, the answer is a resounding "Yes" to a Grand Design.
An easy-going garage mechanic, Ed Walters (Tim Robbins), meets Catherine Boyd (Meg Ryan), a successful Princeton University mathematics doctoral candidate, as she comes into the garage, accompanied by her resistant and critical English fiancé, acerbic experimental psychology professor James Moreland (Stephen Fry). There is an immediate "electric" connection which Ed recognizes, but she is not yet aware.
Ed sees his future, briefly, and Catherine is a major part of it; they are married, and have children together. "How long will all of this take?" asks Catherine, referring to the car repair, and Ed, thinking about their future life together, replies, "That's up to you". His life purpose has suddenly been decided by a force of nature greater than himself.
Finding a watch she left at the garage, Ed travels to her address and finds himself face to face with Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau), who is Catherine's uncle.
Albert—portrayed as a fun-loving genius—and his mischievous friends, fellow scientists Nathan Liebknecht (Joseph Maher), Kurt Gödel (Lou Jacobi), and Boris Podolsky (Gene Saks), quickly accept Ed as a friend and see Ed as someone who would be better suited for Catherine. The four of them bring their communal vehicle to Ed's garage to have it modified as a convertible, and chat with Ed about how to attract Catherine's interest. An amused suggestion by Ed to "borrow their brains" inspires them to try to help Ed look and sound like a scientist (i.e., a "wunderkind" in physics) temporarily, in order to garner Catherine's attention for Ed, while at the same time trying to convince Catherine that life is not all about the mind, but is also about the heart. James's heart is virtually non-existent (as seen in his casual cruelty in his treatment of test subjects and limited awareness of humanity), while Ed's heart is adventurous and virtually limitless.
Einstein sees bringing Ed and Catherine together as his most enduring legacy to his niece, because she was of the mistaken opinion that her only contribution to the world was to be through her children, and that she therefore must marry a total intellectual because then she will produce genius children, like himself. Einstein realizes that Ed loves Catherine for herself, and will help her blossom into her full potential as a person full of life and spirit; a fellow world traveler with mutual interests as varied as the Boyd's Comet and the Seven Sacred Pools on Maui, which James belittled.
Catherine eventually sees through the "intellectual Ed" ruse Einstein and his cohorts had temporarily created in order to get her to give Ed some attention, but falls for Ed anyway, just as Einstein had hoped. A smiling Albert Einstein uses a small telescope to spy happily on the two young moonstruck lovers as they take delight in the return of Boyd's Comet and in each other's company. The film ends with both Catherine and Albert saying "Wahoo!", just as Einstein had earlier in the film while riding on Ed's motorcycle.Tim Robbins as Ed Walters
Meg Ryan as Catherine Boyd
Walter Matthau as Albert Einstein
Lou Jacobi as Kurt Gödel
Gene Saks as Boris Podolsky
Joseph Maher as Nathan Liebknecht
Stephen Fry as James Moreland
Tony Shalhoub as Bob Rosetti
Frank Whaley as Frank
Charles Durning as Louis Bamberger
Keene Curtis as Dwight D. Eisenhower
Alice Playten as Gretchen
Greg Germann as Bill Riley, Times reporter
For dramatic reasons, I.Q. fictionalizes the lives of certain real people. Albert Einstein did not have a niece by the name of Catherine Boyd. Kurt Gödel was famously shy and reclusive, unlike his fictional counterpart in this film. The movie gives the impression that Einstein and his friends are all around the same age, when in fact, they were between 17 and 30 years younger than Einstein. The real-life Louis Bamberger died in 1944, before the film's set period. The characters in the film also listen to Little Richard's "Tutti-Fruitti," which was released in November 1955, while Albert Einstein died in April of that year.
The director, Fred Schepisi, later said that, while he liked the film, it was not what it could have been:
"The problem was there were two other producers, there was a studio and there was Tim Robbins and they were all contributing, and Tim Robbins was being difficult because he said in the '90s nobody would like a character who has a woman fall in love with him because of a lie. That's the whole premise of the film. And it's all right for him to know that and believe it, but he should spend the whole time trying to say, "Hey, I'm lying to you," and be constantly frustrated. Because of that attitude, he pulled the film this way, he pulled it that way while we were writing and it just felt messy. And nobody ever understood the value of those four scientists, and I like the cast that I had, but the other three scientists apart from Walter Matthau were originally going to be Peter Ustinov, Barry Humphries and John Cleese. I wanted them all the way through, but nobody understood how strong they would be. Nobody understood that with a garage and the scientists and this other guy, if you could just stay within that world, if you kept your two lovers together all the time under pressure and you do lots of silly things - there were a couple of wonderfully silly things when they were trying to prove his theory and they kept blowing things up - it had that whimsy about it that would have kept the lovers together and under tension. If they want subplots, they up the stakes and all this formulaic crap - and that's the problem."
I.Q. opened in theaters on Christmas Day. It grossed $3,131,201 during its opening weekend (12/25-27), ranking #8 in opening-weekend sales for the weekend. By the time the film closed, it had made $26,381,221 worldwide.
The film received mixed reviews from critics, as I.Q. holds a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.