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The Danish Girl is based on the true story of a pioneering recipient of gender reassignment surgery and on David Ebershoff’s book of the same name. The movie, directed by Tom Hooper, constantly emphasizes the dimension of acting in gender identity, and that making it but too much blurring performances of its cast with pantomime.
In 2015, transgender themes and characters achieved their greatest media visibility yet. On TV, we have series such as Transparent and Boy Meets Girl. In the cinema, there are Tangerine and 52 Tuesdays hitting the big scene. While arguably the most mainstream-friendly of such phenomena, The Danish Girl is manifestly serious in intent. Yet, it’s a labored and glossy affair in which the complexity and challenge that the man has to go through in order to live with his true identity as a woman are buried under a glaze of sumptuous design and arch acting.
The Danish Girl movie revolves around Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda (Alicia Vikander) Wegener. They are enjoying a happy, tender marriage, marred only by the disparity between their professional levels of success. Einar is an acclaimed creator of stark Nordic landscapes, while Gerda is getting nowhere as a portraitist. Then, one day their dancer friend Ulla is late for a portrait sitting. Gerda persuades her husband to deputies in stockings and ballet shoes. That leads to Einar visibly experiences a frisson of self-revelation.
There are several touches in Lucinda Coxon’s script that flirt awkwardly and self-consciously with farcem and that’s not biggest problem. The movie’s biggest problem is Redmayne’s performance. It is a very physical rendering. Still, the problem is also the movie’s hottest point. Meanwhile, Vikander makes it clear that Gerda is a tough modern woman, but ticks the 21st-century “feistiness” box a little too briskly. The Swedish star uses much the same languidly patrician English accent as she did in Testament of Youth.
Despite Lili’s eventual historic operation, performed by surgeon Dr. Warnekros, we get only the most superficial sense of the protagonist undergoing a process that is any way dangerous. This overall abstraction is underwritten by the movie’s aesthetic gloss. It’s all quite gorgeous, but Hopper overuses the beauty making too many scenes distractingly dominated by a perfect frock or a ravishing art nouveau window.
The Danish Girl movie aims to capture the struggle of self-realization, but there’s little dramatic weight making calculated style invokes feeling rather than stirs it. In tailoring its story to the requirements of prestige costume drama, this decorous removes the operating table from Lili Elbe’s story and puts the coffee table in its place. All in all, The Danish Girl is a breakthrough movie, but it could be better if Hooper takes his focus on showing character’s emotion rather than overusing the beauty of arts that is quite distracted.