THE DANISH GIRL (2015, directed by Tom Hooper, 119 minutes, U.K.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Just to make sure people didn’t think it was a film about a girl who loved pastries, the studio has been leaking pictures of Eddie Redmayne in all his cross-dressing elegance as the title character in The Danish Girl, another lush period piece from Tom Hooper, director of 2010’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, for months prior to the film’s release. In this post-Caitlin Jenner moment, The Danish Girl hopes to ride its subject into the money this holiday season. Too bad its story of a martyred heroine builds on tired old narratives of those who dare to break society’s taboos.
It’s a shame because the film’s opening hour is quite fresh and engaging. Redmayne is Einar Wegener, an artist with a lovely wife Gerda Wegener (Ex-Machina‘s sexy robot Alicia Vikander) who together live and paint and make passionate love in their sun-drenched loft in 1920s Copenhagen. It all starts innocently enough with Gerda suggesting Einer stand in for a female model who has canceled but before you know it Einar doesn’t want to take the wardrobe off. In that spirit of Roaring ’20s outrageousness, Gerda attends a party with Einar made-up as his female counterpart “Lili” and from there it is no looking back.
It’s such a lushly-mounted milieu that is created you just want to luxuriate in their world of handmade finery, costume parties, golden light and the sexy glare of painters at work. But the paradise evaporates when Einer decides he must live as Lili, and all pleasures seem to disappear as well. The giddy liberation of embracing a repressed orientation becomes a humorless battle, seen mostly from Gerda’s perspective and scored by minor key themes as the sets grow darker and darker.
Redmayne and Vikander are so good and natural in their roles your interest isn’t likely to sway but this fictionalized version of the Wegener’s story finds more tragedy than power in Lili’s life. After seeming so liberating in its opening, the film ultimately feel too old-fashioned in its age-old template of sexual explorers mining personal disaster from their bravery. Earlier this summer we had a micro-budgeted indie Tangerine which presented a pair of transgendered sex worker causing mayhem in the street but it refrained from presenting them as victims needing to be taught a lesson. Now that felt like 2015. Somehow between The Danish Girl‘s conception and its arrival, the film has missed its moment.