The Danish Girl

Posted by Joel Copling on December 18, 2015

"The Danish Girl" is oddly disengaged from the sociopolitical ramifications of Einar Wegener's transformation from a doting husband to the woman, Lili Elbe, whom she was always sure lived inside her somewhere. Director Tom Hooper's film (adapted from David Ebershoff's novel of the same name) seems conflicted about the politics of its view of sexuality. On one hand, the build-up is fine, as we see the chemistry between our central character and his wife of six years. On the other hand, once the shift occurs, and Lili, first as a joke and then as an identity, comes into the picture, the film makes its own shift--toward crushing melodrama.

Until that shift, though, the film is a solid enough introduction to Einar, played with sincerity by Eddie Redmayne. He and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) are painters, he a promising up-and-comer in the field and she prone to receive criticism despite clear talent. He is also her model of choice in the portraits and sketches that litter their Copenhagen apartment of 1926, many of which involve the wearing of dresses and hosiery. When they are invited to a ball by her friend Ulla (Amber Heard), an idea is struck up: Einar will go in disguise as "Lili," a pretty, red-haired woman. A problem arises when "Lili" attracts the likes of Henrik (Ben Whishaw) and the two share a chaste kiss.

Gerda sees, of course, and confronts Einar about the encounter. "Something changed" is his only explanation, and it is here when "Lili" stops being a game and sees the quotation marks dropped around the name. The entirety of the film's second hour is then devoted to tiresome, repetitive sequences of Lili trying to mimic the women around her and ones in which he is trying to convince doctors that he is not, in fact, insane. Redmayne's performance moves into the realm of caricature as these sequences play out, and though the film picks up a bit in the final half-hour, as Lili takes the final steps to become a woman in physiological terms as much as emotional and psychological, the central performance never quite settles into something genuine or authentic. The film never returns to the naturalism of its opening act as a result.

Much of the weight of the film, then, falls upon the shoulders of Vikander, and the actress is exceptional at playing a wife who, despite eventual support of her husband's change, feels like he is slipping away from her. She ultimately falls victim to the film's mushy treatment of heightened material, though, as Lucinda Coxon's screenplay relegates her to the Concerned Wife role. Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen's aesthetic, as per usual devoted to the faces of their subjects, fudges the potential of proving why close-ups work to get inside the heads of characters, instead merely conveying that pesky melodrama. It is ultimately all that "The Danish Girl" offers, and it is not nearly enough.

Film Information

Eddie Redmayne (Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe), Alicia Vikander (Gerda Wegener), Matthias Schoenaerts (Hans Axgil), Amber Heard (Ulla), Ben Whishaw (Henrik).

Directed by Tom Hooper and written by Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel by David Ebershoff.

Rated R (sexuality, full nudity).

120 minutes.

Released in select cities on November 27th, 2015.