December 8, 2016

Review: ‘The Danish Girl’

Coming off of his critically acclaimed role as Stephen Hawking, Eddie Redmayne is going for the gold again playing one of the first recipients of sex-reassignment therapy in The Danish Girl.

The Danish Girl follows Einar Wegener (Redmayne) as he stands in for a female model for his wife, artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). He dons a dress, stockings, high heels, make-up and a wig. The portrait proves popular, leading to more portraits. Einar starts to enjoy playing female and begins to live as a woman named Lili Elbe. This revelation leads to a strained marriage between Einar and Gerda, as she learns that Einar is no longer the person she married.

This is the fifth film directed by Tom Hooper, most famous for The King’s Speech and Les Misérables, which secured gold for Colin Firth and Anne Hathaway. The same possibility can be said for Redmayne and Vikander, who give career-defining performances.

Redmayne’s Einar is sympathetic. He finds confidence most when he dons the get-up, his hand movements becoming more comfortable, his walk showing more authority and his smile radiating with real warmth. As Einar, he is meek and kind of sluggish in his movements and speech.

Vikander is not so sure. After six years of marriage, she feels as if she does not know her husband at all, despite what she believes at the beginning of the film. Vikander portrays the wide range of emotions with gravitas in a way that feels justifiable and heartbreaking.

The supporting cast is top-notch, with Amber Heard especially being a breath of fresh air as Vikander’s friend. Matthias Schoenaerts proves a great balance to the emotion of Redmayne and Vikander in his role as a childhood friend of Lili who forms a complex love triangle with the couple.

The production values are impeccable. There is no doubt that Tom Hooper knows how to represent this time era. Cinematographer Danny Cohen gives the grainy feel of the era with his golden undertones and with really great lighting choices. The cloudy skies are used to great affect here. Alexandre Desplat’s musical score paint the era well with its use of symphonic restraint and lack of percussion.

This is an admirable film. However, what keeps it from being great is the fact that it is a safe film. It tackles a timely subject with a historical perspective that deserves eyes, but that almost guarantees Oscar nominations. It is also a relatively safe film for Hooper, keeping the same beats as The King’s Speech. There’s a by-the-books nature to the film that keeps it from transcending itself, a goal it wishes to accomplish.

There is no denying The Danish Girl’s fantastic production values and performances, as well as its intent. However, its safe nature keeps this story from moving beyond a well-made film Oscar voters will love.

Rating: 7/10

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