Danish Girl, The (2015)

Review #1,252

Director:  Tom Hooper
Cast:  Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts
Plot:  A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener.  Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / Romance 
Awards:  Won Queer Lion (Venice).  Won 1 Oscar - Best Supporting Actress.  Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Leading Actor, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design.
Runtime:  119min
Rating:  R21 for some sexuality and full nudity.
Distributor:  United International Pictures

“I think Lily's thoughts, I dream her dreams.  She was always there.”

Eddie Redmayne follows up his Oscar-winning performance for The Theory of Everything (2014) with another performance of note as Einar Wegener, a man who would become a woman, marking the world’s first transgender patient.  Believing he is Lili, a woman stuck in a man’s body, Redmayne’s character is torn between his love for his wife Gerda (Alica Vikander), and his desire to become herself. 

He will surely be nominated for an Oscar, along with Vikander who is in for a shout in the leading actress category.  Vikander, who first got noticed in A Royal Affair (2012) before her breakthrough came in one of the best films of the year, Ex Machina (2015), will surely become one of the most sought-after actresses in the next few years.

Both characters are painters in 1920s Copenhagen, with the period setting providing an exquisite backdrop and near flawless production design that would lend director Tom Hooper’s work a polished elegance.  Hooper, whose credits include the wonderful The King’s Speech (2010) and the musical epic Les Miserables (2012), however helms his weakest work of the trio, let down by stunted storytelling considering the potentiality of the subject matter. 

Transgender issues while controversial as it was then as it is now are being glossed over without really trying to get to the heart of the topic.  The film feels too comfortable in letting the couple’s story play out as standard biopic fare as possible, never quite engaging audiences intellectually, even if it does so emotionally, albeit with some contrivance.

The Danish Girl can rightly be seen as an Oscar-bait, but hopes of it nabbing a Best Picture nomination are very slim considering the competition.  It should serve up several nominations in the acting, and production and costume design categories though. 

Depending on your tastes, The Danish Girl may be right up your alley – it is an accessible, fairly mainstream offering that may inspire you.  But if you are looking for something more complex and challenging, films such as Kimberley Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother (1999) offer more provocative food for thought.

Verdict:  A near flawless production design and strong performances cannot mask the fact that the film doesn’t offer anything more than what it is – a standard fare period biopic that feels too comfortable to engage deeply with its transgender issues.


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