TIFF40 2015: The Danish Girl

Tom Hooper seems to be the period piece go-to director for by-the-numbers Oscar films. After the immense success of the little indie that could The King’s Speech gaining massive momentum at TIFF in 2010going on to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar; then the grand and highly ambitious Les Miserables, Hooper seemed to have crafted a career out of production rich designs, strong performances and historically relevant social issues in his films. With the addition of Eddie Redmayne, fresh off his Oscar winning role in last year’s The Theory of Everything, Hooper’s newest The Danish Girl was expected to come out a clear winner. Sadly, The Danish Girl is a confused, highly theatrical and poorly constructed transparent film with laughable dialogue between its two leads Redmayne and rising star Alicia Vikander. 
The Danish Girl seemed to be a foolproof, sure-fire bet for success; Redmayne was coming off his Oscar win as Stephen Hawkings; the first look photo of the film of Redmayne in drag gained immense buzz online; Hooper finally got a project off the ground after many years of being shelved by studios and various directors; its female lead Alicia Vikander had four major roles in 2015 with nothing but great buzz, and finally, the cast rounded out with the grandly talented Matthias Schoenaerts. Yet, Hooper’s The Danish Girl came across as a forced, highly contrived Oscar wannabe film with pretentious camera tricks, dizzying angles and weak vehicle for any kind of lead up to have Redmayne the first actor to win two back-to-back lead actor Oscars.

Set in 1926, in what could be described as Hooper’s historically hipster-era in Copenhagen, the film follows Gerda Wegener (Vikander) and Einar Wegener (Redmayne), a very passionate, close-knit painting couple who cherish the high art culture of Copenhagen, including its posh parties, galas and presentations. Along for the ride, is their close friend and confident floozy Oola Paulson (Amber Heard), who motivates the couple to partake in the lavish cultural niche of the country, without much else.

DanishGirl_1 Eddie Redmayne stars as Lili Elbe, in Tom Hooper’s THE DANISH GIRL, released by Focus Features. Credit: Focus Features

In a desperate attempt to finish up a recent portrait for her upcoming, impending gallery showcase, Gerda asks her loving and supportive husband Einar, to place the painted dress on, along with some nylons and heals. As Einar caresses and is seduced by the fabrics of the garment, he becomes transfixed, mind, body and soul, with the crazy idea of becoming a woman. As Oola enters the couples apartment, in preparation for another trendy evening gather, jokingly names Einar’s female counterpart Lili. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the origins of Lili would just be the start of Gerda’s and Einar’s life.

Transgenderism is a huge and highly talked about social issue in many art forms today, especially within the visual medium. With shows like “Transparent”, “Orange is the New Black” and others making waves, it’s no surprise that Hollywood busted out an origin film of one of the first successful transgender stories and operations recorded. Sadly, The Danish Girl, while trying to be trendsetting and a wavelengths type film for the truly difficult realities for many, serves as a laughable and pretentious story of over-dramatic film aesthetics and acting.

Scorn with painful editing, inauspicious mood-setting scoring and less than hubris camera angles and filing styles, it seems as though Hooper forgot to focus on his characters and their difficult and revolutionary small details. For example, when Gerda tries to persuade Einar to coming to a party with her, which he declines vivacious, she convinces him to come as Lili, for fun and merely as a joke. While Einar’s transformation and changing montage is brief, unlike those cliched high school prom films that has the big transformation of its lead female protagonist as she goes from ugly duckling to beautiful swan, Lili has no big reveal; merely a quick shot of her walking the streets, rushing to the party with Gerda. Hooper takes for granted so much of the importance of Einar to Lili, and focuses on a very muddled and hard to define relationship between a man and a woman; lovers to friends; wife to cousin?

TDG1

Danish pastries are famous for being laminated, multilayered and delicate. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for The Danish Girl. Burnt to a crisp with overacting and some poor make-up and costume choices, the film does offer some saving graces thanks mostly to an astonishing performance by Alicia Vikander and Matthias Schoenaerts, and a very special and one of the rare believable scenes of Redmayne through a looking glass. Vikander, who counterbalances Redmayne’s manic behaviour and inability to vocalize how he feels he is meant to be a woman, Vikander’s gentle touch to Gerda’s character brings true emotions of how any partner and loved one would deal with a very radical decision today, and more so in 1926 Europe. Vikander, who is bound to land some Oscar love come earlier next year, gently graces the screen with perfectly timed drama, poise and a gentle touch. Schoenaerts, who is a period-piece veteran, offers his masterful acting skills as an old-friend to Einar and new friend to Gerda, playing a very similar role as Charlie Cox’s character Jonathan in The Theory of Everything, his passion to aid, understand and stand on the sidelines of a very unique circumstance is one of the winning areas of the film.

Eddie Redmayne is undoubtedly going to be one of our generation’s finest actors; proving his physical transformation on screen, as well as his ability to enrapture the essence of many iconic figures in the world. His take as Lili Elbe is one that draws much criticism for his inability to really capture the tremendous empathy for wanting to become a woman, without the finesse of destroying one of his greatest loves, his wife Gerda. Lili becomes a selfish and inconsiderate character that becomes difficult to side with. Einar and Gerda’s chemistry in the film is spot-on and elegant; while Einar increasingly decides on being Lili more than Einar, the chemistry between the two disintegrates, rightly so as a couple, but while Lili and Gerda bond, the relationship and chemistry between the two leads becomes more of a hassle and chore to watch than as a marvel. Hooper’s take of a couple, whose relationship is pushed and tested to the limit, becomes more of a Hallmark Movie of the Week type archetype, rather than an Oscar caliber relationship between two historical individuals.

Hooper may have been fortunate enough to get a project off the ground that once had Lasse Hallström, Neil LaBute, Tomas Alfredson involved, as well as Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Rachel Weisz and Uma Thurman all circling the role that Vikander was obviously destined to play. The tragedy within The Danish Girl  lies in the chemistry between a very unsuitable Redmayne and Vikander, an unintentionally comical screenplay by Lucinda Coxon, and le miserable direction from Hooper. You can be sure that Hooper will have no speech ready come Oscar time early next year, despite such a promising premise and trailer for a film that could have reigned supreme in 2015.

Night Film Reviews: 5 Out of 10 Stars.

Does The Danish Girl satisfy your sweet spot? Or too sweet for you to handle? Is Redmayne destined for back-to-back Oscar glory? Or is it Razzy-certified performance? What did you think? Leave your thoughts and comments below! 

 

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