“You’re different than most girls.”
The true story behind The Danish Girl is a rather remarkable one, and one that’s psychologically complex. The film, however, is not, showcasing a cheaply gilded sword of blunt emotion that never cuts to the core of the relationship between these people. And for being two hours long, you’d expect more character detail and specificity, hinting at the underpinnings destined to be forever altered through fate and through circumstance. With no real substance or palpable tension, The Danish Girl’s insight feels more pulpy than it is timely or powerful. It’s like watching a lavishly decorated soap opera.
Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) live in Copenhagen, 1926. He’s well-known for his landscape paintings while she does unheralded portraiture work. Save for Tom Hooper’s theatrical directing and Alexandre Desplat’s overbearing score, The Danish Girl can be considered finely tuned Oscar bait. Danny Cohen’s cinematography work is lush, and the production design and costuming are equally impressive. It certainly passes the eye test. But the facade can be deceiving, especially with Hooper’s inconsistent shooting style and the deadened script. Very little about this movie feels human, and comes across as more of a machine-like quest for life well lived fully and honestly. There was plenty of opportunity here to open the floodgates, yet the hackneyed film just prefers to keep things tidily tucked away under lock and key.
What’s missing most here is motivation. Einar seems fine, even enamored with his beautiful spouse, and at a moment’s notice embarks on a personal journey of change that ultimately heads towards the first gender reassignment surgery. Hooper focuses this seismic shift not through intimate personality, but through bodily movements. Hands graze over dresses and stockings and night gowns. The effect works for show but not for character development. It’s all driven through the exterior, a sort of fascination with sartorial dressings that cover up the soul living in the wrong skin underneath. As Einar slowly becomes Lili and challenges the marital bond established with Gerda, their already undefined relationship becomes maddeningly frustrating. There’s no chemistry between Redmayne and Vikander, and the shallow scripting never allows the actors to sink their teeth into who they are as a couple or as individuals.
Redmayne goes through an admirable physical transformation here, but like last year’s The Theory of Everything, his performance is purely somatic. His movements aren’t linked to the emotions of Einar or Lili. He tweely smiles, twisting his head and downturning his gaze. We can calculate the trajectory of the performance every step of the way. Vikander on the other hand is unpredictable as the real lead of the film. She’s less repetitive, more commanding, and acts with her eyes and her voice rather than leaning upon the crutches of gestures or posture. The Danish Girl may be the story of a transgender person, but rarely does it seem like one made to serve as a voice for the transgender community. Hooper’s film exists in a cozy little bubble, carefully shrinkwrapped so as to never burst at the seams. What truly lies beneath is lackluster.
“Not everything is about you.”
Rating: 2 out of 5