The Danish Girl: Throw Back the Oscar Bait
Director: Tom Hooper Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander Running Time: 119 minutes
Occasionally, you just have to accept that certain things just aren’t for you, no matter how many acclaimed they are, no matter how many times their virtues are extolled in your general direction. With The Danish Girl, I think it’s time for me to accept that the acting of Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne is just not for me. Since the film is essentially a hook to attach to the Oscar-bait that is Redmayne, Lili Elbe, one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery. is shown to us with his full bag of capital-A Acting tricks, with no tic or titter left unbroadly played.
Sadly, despite the subject matter, The Danish Girl doesn’t have much interest into delving into things beyond the surface level, wallowing in the seriousness and drama of it all before culminating in the most embarassingly overdone death scene from People Who Should Know Better since Marion Cotillard in The Dark Knight Rises, its final frames the kind of cloying and obvious symbolism that gets people snickering behind your back in writing class. Director Tom Hooper, once described to me aptly as ‘The Coldplay of directors), distracts himself with wide angles of well-decorated rooms and cobbled European streets, flatly and staidly. Considering that Einar Wegener and wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) are painters and that elaborate clothes (silk stockings, scarves, expensive clothes) are so central to Lili’s re-emerging identity, a little flourish and life wouldn’t go amiss in the direction, but it’s all flat, lifeless, wide shots of furniture, close ups of faces. Lili herself could do with more life to her, but sure look, at least we know she blinks a lot?
The problem with Redmayne is that it’s always so conscious that he’s performing, and though a certain amount of performance makes sense for somebody trying to come to terms with their identity, the constant lilting, blinking and demuring here comes across less like a someone letting loose with femininity now that she’s presenting as a woman and more like a man pretending to be a woman, which ultimately with this cisgendered lead, is what we are watching. What’s curious is that Lili is a relatively assertive figure in the narrative, yet Redmayne acts so passively, which makes for a distracting dissonance. It doesn’t come across clearly how Lili feels beyond whatever the dialogue says at any one time, neither screenplay nor director nor actor seems to have a firm grip on who this character is beyond ‘struggling transgender’. For all the obvious (like, ‘can you see me Academy?’) challenge of his role, Alicia Vikander has just as difficult a job-she has to make Gerda sympathetic without taking focus away from the titular Danish Girl-but she carries it off with distinction, injecting genuine playfulness, warmth and later, sympathy into her performance. Gerda feels like an actual person, Lili feels like watching somebody overdo it in a movie within a movie. Perhaps with more feminine perspectives behind the camera and in the lead role, The Danish Girl would end up worthy of its subject manner. Unfortunately, despite worthy subject matter, its much too lifeless to enjoy.