The Danish Girl (opening today) is the sort of movie that is about something important, without managing to be all that interesting as a whole. Now, it features two great performances – both award worthy – by last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, Eddie Redmayne, and break-out superstar actress, Alicia Vikander, who has been getting all kinds of award recognition and who was just named Best Supporting Actress and “Breakthrough” performer of the year by the Detroit Film Critics Society. But somehow director Tom Hooper (Les Miserables, The King’s Speech) isn’t able to craft this story of a transgender pioneer into something relatable or exhilarating.
Redmayne plays Lili Elbe, who is one of the very first known recipients of a sex change operation, or GRS (gender reassignment surgery). Before “he” becomes Lili, his name was Einar Wegener, the proud husband to artist Gerda Wegener (Vikander). One day when Gerda’s fashion model does not show up, Einar sits in for her and dresses in women’s clothes so that Gerda can continue her painting. At first they laugh and giggle, but Einar discovers that he has never felt more comfortable.
With an incredible amount of support and pushing by Gerda, they explore and experience this new, taboo side of Einar. He calls his new persona “Lili” and before you know it, Lili and Gerda are making public appearances and testing the waters of society.
The film takes place in 1920s Copenhagen, Denmark, so needless to say this sort of thing was not at all common, or welcome. But the film is more of a celebration of Lili’s bravery than a temperature-gauge of the political climate of the time. Lili is examined by shrinks and doctors, finally finding one that is willing to do a controversial new procedure, that would complete the transformation of Einar into Lili.
Lili did have a real identity crisis and before too long she was referring to Einar as a separate person completely. Where at first this was fun and interesting for Gerda, she soon longs for the man she married, a man who no longer exists.
Redmayne is great in portraying Lili and showing the changes within her naturally, but the film’s emotional center is Gerda and Alicia Vikander’s star-making performance. She shows range and surprises in nearly every scene. But their performances alone are not enough to transform The Danish Girl from politically-correct, well-timed fluff into something more impactful.
Genre: Biography, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours, Rated R
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Wishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts
Directed by Tom Hooper (Les Miserables, The King’s Speech, The Damned United)
Opens locally on Friday, Dec 18, 2015 (check for show times).