The Danish Girl ★★★

Part of:
2016 Oscars Wishlist
2015 Feature Films: RANKED
Movies I Saw in Theaters

In a year where nearly every film has been unpredictably received by its audience, and often quite divisive, it is almost refreshing to see such a middle-of-the-road film as Tom Hooper’s latest period piece, The Danish Girl. Telling the story of Lili Elbe, a Danish painter and one of the first recipients of a sex reassignment operation, The Danish Girl is decisively unapologetic for its subject matter. However, featuring only a few scenes of true torment, the film tiptoes over what was no doubt a harrowing time of introspective confusion and sadness for Lili -- then Einar Wegener, a successful landscapist, and her wife, Gerda.

Lili and Einar are played nervously by Eddie Redmayne, a dangerously popular young actor who most recently won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role last year. I comment on his nerves, because I think this is a characteristic that Redmayne brings to many of his roles. I have yet to decide where I stand in terms of his performance here. His twitchy, whispery portrayal of Lili is altogether too similar to his performance last year, as Stephen Hawking. This is a comparison that I hoped would not have to be made. And yet, I am starting to believe this is the only role Mr. Redmayne is able to play. If his next project sees him with a stutter, I may believe him to have come down with a case of Parkinson’s, otherwise he may just be a bad actor. I must add, though, that I did enjoy him in the horribly self-indulgent 2011 film Hick, wherein he dropped the annoying accent and did some work that stretched him beyond his nervous, British ways. Can you tell that I think he deserved jack-squat at the Oscars last year yet? Good.

For the truly impressive work done for The Danish Girl, we must glance first and foremost to Tom Hooper and Alicia Vikander. Mrs. Vikander took on quite a lot this year. She first won over the critical eye with her turn as Ava, a beautiful and wise AI in the sci-fi sleeper hit Ex Machina, and now with her work in Tom Hooper’s latest drama, she is a sure-fire Hollywood favorite. Vikander’s abilities have yet to be fully tested, but everything that she has yet brought to the primordial table has been supremely palatable. Her work in The Danish Girl is most easily compared to that of Helena Bonham Carter in Hooper’s last film, The King’s Speech. Both characters are deliciously matronly, and simply beg to be hugged, kissed, and loved by their audience. Both are strong women, who refuse to live passively for their husbands. Gerda Wegener is bolder than her husband, and Alicia Vikander is bolder than Eddie Redmayne. Now, it seems all but fitting that Mrs. Vikander is being considered, for the most part, to be a supporting cast member in this film. She is a lead, through and through. End of discussion.

As for Hooper’s ever-capable direction, I must take a moment of silence to think of how fucking good The King’s Speech was, and how sad it is to think that The Danish Girl is what we’ve been waiting for ever since. Even sadder is the concept that he really tried his best with this one, too. Everything that I love visually about his past projects is there. I like to think that the sloppy and incapable storytelling can be blamed on Lucinda Coxin’s abortion of a script, but Hooper knew what he was getting into here, and I expect better.

The Danish Girl is worth seeing. Maybe I judge it more harshly than deserved because I know who sat in the director’s chair, and because movies like this deserve to be great, and The Danish Girl was only alright. Maybe because Alicia Vikander deserves better -- although with the praise she’s been getting, I think she can handle however horrible a critical reception her film is getting. This film is altogether an enjoyable experience. Eddie Redmayne annoys, but does not ruin anything in the end. He excels far more as Einar than he does as Lili, which may in fact push the eggheads in Hollywood to consider hiring some truly transgender artists to portray the transgender artists. But who knows.

elias1026 liked these reviews