The Danish Girl (2015)
dir. Tom Hooper
written by: Lucinda Coxon
starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard
2.5 out of 4 stars
Awards bait runs amok every December, often sweeping up awards attention and undeserved prizes along the way. David Fincher’s The Social Network was robbed Best Picture and Best Director in 2012 by Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech. An okay movie, the prestige of having Colin Firth getting his makeup Oscar as a stuttering King George VI swept through the Academy and knocked over the innovative Fincher to steal his prizes. With my devotion to Fincher–I may have seen more of his movies in theater than any other director–, let’s just say I’m not the biggest Hooper fan.
This year, he has thrown The Danish Girl into theaters to see what might come of it. The story surrounds painters Einar and Gerda Wegener’s struggles with Einar’s gender identity. Sparked during a bit of dress up, the passive Einar and the boisterous but understanding Gerda navigate this unheard of situation as only artists in 1930’s Denmark can, which is swooningly. Transitioning from diagnosis to acceptance, The Danish Girl is a rapid, intensity filled quiet epic of Hooper standards, no tear goes without closeup, no batted eyelash can lack attention.
Based on a fictionalized version of the Wegener marriage, Lucinda Coxon delivers a heavy handed script that rushes through the story, trying to fit in every ounce of emotion that can be dragged from this sad affair. There is no downtime. The pair trot through Europe, celebrating Gerda’s burgeoning art career and Einar’s transformation into Lili, and every step seems rapt for documentation. Too much information clogs the story, as some scenes explode unexpectedly without notice, leaving me asking where this or that change originated. Paired with the exceptionally heavy handed direction of Tom Hooper, likely still stuck in Les Mis live singing mode, this movie is at best gorgeously designed and at worst an erratic attempt at paying homage to one of the first openly transgender individual.
Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, who play Einar/Lili and Gerda, respectively, do fine work with a subpar script and overenthusiastic direction. Redmayne, that very pretty man, is overtaken with the slightest of struggles, all bashful to disaster in no time flat. However, his measured voice and the emotion behind his eyes speak more strongly to his talent as an actor than the role and direction allowed. Alicia Vikander, capping her exceptional year, is certainly no Supporting Actress in this film. She has nearly as much screentime and owns the screen more fiercely. A bit overly brazen at times, it is not her most subtle performance this year; that would be her brilliant Ex Machina role. One can feel the commitment to the role. Her star power is imminent, everyone can see that, but this role certainly is not her breakout.
The film’s design is the purpose to see this film. Reteaming with his previously collaborators production designer Eve Stewart and costume designer Paco Delgado, previous Oscar nominees for The King’s Speech and Les Miserables, Eve for both, Les Mis for Paco, Hooper again excels with beauty. Delgado’s costumes have notable flair and period excellence, a brilliant array of colors with flashy suits and well draped dresses. They compliment the exceptional production design. The marbled blues of their apartment, the joyous yet chaotic exhibition halls, and the low lit hectic beauty of a ballet studio highlight just some of the nonstop lovely backdrops. Captured by Hooper’s regular DP Danny Cohen, every scene, though choppily edited, was a brilliant spectacle. As a side note, pardon the score by Alexandre Desplat; he phoned in this one.
The Danish Girl, an early favorite for awards bait, fell short of the promise of its award winning male-to-female lead and the talented, young leading lady. Though a nice sight, the overwrought manner of the film overshadowed the purpose behind this notable story in LGBT history. Prestige seeking harmed the quality, and despite the best efforts of the cast, much was lost to an audience craving some subtlety and a trimmed script. We needed a bit more Transparent, and a bit less Caitlyn Jenner.