The topic of gender identity is prevalent one worth exploring. With LGBTQ ideas edging closer and closer to major cultural exposure with every new year, it’s encouraging to see a major Oscar contender release focused on the topic of gender. That being said, The Danish Girl is more of an early step rather than a full run up the stairs and even then, it doesn’t feel like one that’s all that memorable once you’ve climbed past the final hump. The biggest assets the film has on its side are its leads Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne is the performance likely to get more attention due to the very nature of the character he’s portraying, one that may turn some off given his status as a cisgender male. The problems with the character of Lili aren’t quite on the actor himself, as he at least approaches her with the right amount of vulnerability in his performance for a person transitioning in a world that’s a far cry away from even the meager acceptance we have for such issues now.
Yet, Redmayne’s character as an individual person isn’t quite as interesting as Vikander’s Gerda, a woman torn between realizing that the man of her life & the female friend who has helped jump start her career can’t exist in the same time. It’s a nuanced and complex turn from Vikander in a year that already had an extremely captivating performance from her in Ex-Machina. Unfortunately, The Danish Girl has a very wonky focus, initially setting this situation as a dual hander for the both of them before veering off in varying directions and having detours with side characters that mean next to nothing once the huge problem of the film rears its head; once the second act kicks in, this thing rushes the plot along faster than The Flash on an oil slick. Everything important is sped through once we arrive in Paris, leaving little to no breathing room for the characters to interact in.After a promising start that sets up an interesting dynamic between the couple, The Danish Girl becomes a break-neck race to get through all the major plot points of Oscar bait as quickly as humanly possible.
This removes much of the potential moments of tragedy and human connection one can have with the characters, settling on giving us broad strokes. Even a much shorter and unpolished film like 2015’s Tangerine gives us far more of a sense of individuality and identity with its transgender characters than this one by simply letting them exist in their cultural space. None of this is helped by the coldly uninvolved direction of Tom Hooper, which stagnantly examines this highly emotional concept like an autopsy rather than a relationship. It’s so clinical and uninvolved in what’s going on for the most part, removing a true intimacy with the characters beyond a few moments of intriguing close ups. For all its inconsistent shot construction, even Hooper’s last film Les Miserables managed to capture far more personal and engaging moments with its characters than this ever does. For all of this, The Danish Girl is very well intentioned, but will likely be a mere footnote in what will hopefully be a bright future for gender identity in a mainstream cinematic landscape.
Date Seen: 1/12/16
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Danishes… Mmmmm, Danish