Review: The Danish Girl

It goes without saying that there is always a period in a person’s life where they try to discover who they are. In today’s climate the idea of identity is paramount to what makes up a person’s interest and how they wish to live their lives and in the case of a prominent painter in Copenhagen in the early 1920s, the idea of identity will not only shape his life but the lives of those around him-turned-her.

Image by By -nickon- ,via Wikimedia Commons

Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne is Einar Wegener. One day, Wegener’s wife Gerda, played by Alicia Vikander, starts a game that will yield unimaginable results. Gerda pitches the idea of Einar dressing as a woman for her to sketch, but this idea takes hold of Einar and forces him to ask hard questions about his masculinity and ultimately, his sexual identity.

The Danish Girl is the third film I’ve seen from the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper. The film follows Einar Wegener’s journey from a Copenhagen painter, to transgender pioneer Lili Elbe with Gerda at Lili’s side every step of the way.

Did I have high hopes and expectations for The Danish Girl? Yes, because I’m familiar with Hooper’s previous works, I was a fan of Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar winning performance in The Theory of Everything and I’ve heard glowing praise about the rising star that is Alicia Vikander. Were those hopes and expectations met? I can’t say that they were; in fact, I think somewhere along the way The Danish Girl flew right over my head.

The film is essentially very cut and dry in its approach and its delivery but I found the film overall quite tame and honestly tedious. Visually, it’s pretty and I definitely appreciated the two stars but I just didn’t get it and that’s a shame.

First, I just want to say that watching Eddie Redmayne work is completely amazing. This film marks the second time he and Tom Hooper have worked together, the first was Les Miserables, and he is completely in control of a fine performance; I believe he brought the right amount of vulnerability and tenderness to the role of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and I was completely riveted by his presence.

Image by Frankie Fouganthin (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

When it came to Alicia Vikander’s performance as Gerda, I was at times reminded of Helena Bonham Carter’s performance in The King’s Speech, and I thought it was eerily similar in terms of character structure, the doting wife at her troubled husband’s side, but I thought Vikander played this role quite well. I liked her in this role and I can understand why she is being hailed as an actress to watch out for.

The Danish Girl is a particularly tasteful film, but it comes off as too tasteful in my opinion. I think that Tom Hooper is a fine director, but I think he is starting to fall into the habit of reaching for elegance while pushing a product that is relatively mundane on audiences and that worries me.

Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay is based on David Ebershoff’s novel and the screenplay is quite tame, rigid, straightforward, whatever you wish to describe it. Again, cut-and-dry.

The supporting cast takes a backseat to the main story of Einar’s journey to Lili, I’m afraid. Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts, Adrian Schiller, they all get the short end of the stick; talent sacrificed for the sake of the picture.

On a technical level, The Danish Girl is quite easy on the eyes and the rest of the senses. Alexandre Desplat’s score doesn’t disappoint, Eve Stewart’s production design is rich, the art direction of Grant Armstrong and Tom Weaving is impeccable, Paco Delgado’s costumes are quite nicely designed.

Danny Cohen’s cinematography is very playful. The scene where Einar watches a woman erotically touching herself while he mirrors her movements was fascinating and technically sound.

The editing by Melanie Oliver is steady. Every sequence flows in a pace that does not lose its audience and I found nothing flawing the scope of the story in terms of post-production.

Image by Focus Features

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that The Danish Girl is a film to appreciate because it features two rock-solid leading roles, but it comes off as too sophisticated, too safe, too bland, and there are times where you just feel uncomfortable watching it because of the subject matter.

This movie will certainly draw a crowd and to those who can relate to or identify with the central subject of sexual or gender identity there may be some value in viewing The Danish Girl, but I walked away unimpressed.

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