THE DANISH GIRL
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw
Director Tom Hooper is no stranger to prestige pictures and, with The Danish Girl, his panache for piecing together a beautifully detailed film is on full display. In Fact, every facet of The Danish Girl should work as award season fodder, cementing the film as a critical darling and awards recipient in multiple categories. But, too much of one thing can sometimes lend to a clouded, if not overtly trying, product.
Loosely based on the love story between Danish artists Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne in a role guaranteed to earn an actor some awards attention) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). Born Einar, Lili's journey into womanhood plays as the basis for the emotional turmoil at hand. After assisting Gerda as a model, an underlying struggle with self-identifying comes front and center and Einar begins his slow, conflicting transition into the beautiful and mysterious Lili. While at first seen as an almost sensual, erotic adventure between Einar and Gerda (including a romp with Einar dressed as Lili, attending a well-to-do dinner party honoring local art), becomes much more of a personal battle between societal norms and self worth.
Publicly promoted as the story of one of the first openly transgendered persons to have surgical procedures, The Danish Girl works as a heartbreaking love letter to being yourself, no matter the cost. It also affectionately speaks to caring for people, no matter what.
The title of the film could be misleading, as the story lends itself to both woman, Lili and Gerda, as the prominent Danish girl with whom we're concerned. Obviously, Lili's transition to womanhood is for the history books, including the agonizing, emotional roller coaster involved and the physical limits through which she puts her body towards the end. But, just as equally captivating is Gerda's struggle past selfishness and into selflessness. While she may not fully understand the exact implications of everything happening, she does understand the importance of acceptance through all measures.
Both Redmayne and, especially, Vikander give remarkable performances. Etched in each moment is a rich understanding of the story and risks at hand. While Vikander shined in Ex Machina, this could almost be her official coming out as a strong, leading woman player.
What seems to be lacking is more in director Hooper's choices of over-sharing the experiences through which Lili is going, instead of trusting the audience to follow along. Pointedly focusing on each element of the initial interactions between Eilar and his secrets ends up cheapening the overall effect, giving us more of an award season-friendly ploy than a genuine depiction of struggle and life.
The technical elements do not disappoint, with everything from set dressing to costuming to simple, but beautiful, cinematography working together as a seamless package.
Important for its content and enriching for its quality, it's a shame that Hooper doesn't trust his audience a little more. The film deserves to be more captivating than it is.
Runtime: 1 h 59min