Movie Review: The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl has high production value with great performances from its leads, but this romanticized and hollywoodized version offers no perspective and plays it too safe to be the compelling drama it aims to be.

A painter asks her husband to model for a painting after a model cancelled. Wearing a pair of dainty stockings and shoes Einar Wegener drapes a dress over himself, absentmindedly caressing the fabric. Unbeknownst to both of them, this simple favor will change their lives forever and start a movement that has yet to be named.

‘Tis the season for the Academy Awards, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood would translate an important event in history involving a social issue as its bet.

In fairness, The Danish Girl is a well polished drama. The cinematography and production design create painterly images – ornate chic interiors and deep focus effects paint an exquisite picture of an artistic couple and the emergence of a dormant identity.

They highlight the performances of its two leads – Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander – who have proven to be two of the most talented actors of the recent years. Redmayne deserves to be commended for embracing the challenges of his role and juggling two personas. His odd looks are a perfect match.

While there is much beauty and talent to admire on screen, The Danish Girl is a painting that reveals nothing about its subject.

The camera is always at arms length to provide visual cues of Lili’s transformation – a shot of every coy grin and compositions denoting the disappearing persona of Einar the husband – but the script doesn’t provide you anything about her interior world. Instead it gives a literal depiction of her metamorphosis and doesn’t delve into her inner struggles that could have given the authenticity it needs.

While its fascinating watching Redmayne do his best with whatever the script throws at him – tucking his penis in front of mirror,  attend soirees dressed to the nines – the acting in display here is under-served because Lili is solely defined by her gender. Other characters do their best with the material they’re given, but only used for dramatic effect. The movie opts to deliver a safe mainstream melodrama, diluting a tragic and compelling story into a fantasy.

Lili’s overnight popularity in the Paris art scene, over-emphatic and readily consoling characters, convenient marriage and over-detailed settings all come across as wishful thinking.

In the end, The Danish Girl is nothing more than a beautifully painted but bland portrait that offers no new perspective on its theme and devoid of any of the depth of its source material. It’s a well-intentioned movie that begs to be admired – and you will – but lacks the emotional and intellectual impact to make the audiences fully appreciate the pioneer in its story.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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