TIFF 2015: Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' Starring Eddie Redmayne
by Marco Cerritos
September 15, 2015
The true story of transgender leader Lili Erbe has been watered down for the big screen in Tom Hooper's new film The Danish Girl. What should have been a pioneering story of change and acceptance instead plays it safe and wastes a golden opportunity. Hot off his Oscar win last year for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne tackles the difficult role of Einar Wegener, a 1920's Danish painter living with his artist wife Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander). In a moment of happenstance she asks him to step in for a model who is running late, the only catch is he's supposed to model women's clothes.
Einar doesn't do the obvious Hollywood character choice of immediately jumping into the foreign garments but instead slowly eases into it, seductively running his fingers through each piece of fabric and making it one with his body. The comfort and appeal of wearing women's clothes quickly shocks both Einar and Gerda, christening his alter ego "Lili" and writing it off as a one-time thing. But it is obviously not a one-time thing for Einar as he slowly tries to find more and more reasons to play dress up until the elephant in the room becomes unavoidable. Einar even goes so far as to bring Lili out in public with unexpected results. The film is at its strongest in these scenes of discovery and empowerment as we see Lili fully come into her own and shed her old skin.
The Danish Girl reunites Redmayne with Les Miserables director Tom Hooper and sadly the supervisor becomes dead weight for the thespian. The movie is energetic when it focuses on Lili and Gerda's struggle to find a marital balance amid this newfound discovery but meanders in other areas. Redmayne plays it straight at first but later becomes a ticking time bomb as he starts to lose himself more and more in his new persona. Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon unevenly juggles this transition into a late plot point involving Lili's desperate meeting with a German doctor (played by Sebastian Koch) for gender reassignment surgery. These scenes are crafted with a delicate touch instead of the unflinching honesty they deserve.
Some may call it Oscar bait and some may be genuinely moved but I fall somewhere in the middle with The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne is stronger here than in his performance as Stephen Hawking last year so awards attention is not only inevitable but also well deserved. Alicia Vikander on the other hand continues to impress with her strong body of work and here she matches Redmayne every step of the way. Her portrayal of a long suffering wife standing by her man during a very difficult time (this takes place in the 1920's) is astounding. Dependable composer Alexandre Desplat's luscious score coats the two leads performers with class and love, making this another standout in an already impressive career. With such high class pedigree it's a shame The Danish Girl takes the easy way out and sugar coats its narrative.
Marco's TIFF 2015 Rating: C+
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