Film Review: The Danish Girl

One of the most darling moments at last year’s Academy Awards occurred when Eddie Redmayne very publicly dorked out in his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award; it was genuine, fanboy, surreal and loving all at once, but also a triumphant moment for what felt like an overnight anointed star (in actuality, Redmayne has been acting for over a decade.)

A strikingly physical and evocative performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and the accompanying accolades Redmayne received quickly begged the question, “What next?” Well, eventually, the lead role in the Harry Potter spin-off series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but as of right now, The Danish Girl, which has already garnered Redmayne a SAG and Golden Globe nomination.

Redmayne’s role in The Danish Girl similarly demands a humanistic approach; in this film, he plays Lilli Elbe, one of the first transgender women to undergo sexual reassignment surgery in the early 1900s. Born as famed painter Einer Wegener and married to illustrator Gerda Gottlieb, Lilli began to pose for her wife’s paintings dressed in women’s clothing and occasionally appeared in public as “Lilli”, before realizing the extent to which she wanted to make her transition. The Danish Girl follows Lilli’s journey alongside Gerda (Alicia Vikander, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Ex-Machina) to find and live as her authentic self.

Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander and Amber Heard at the Q&A for Toronto International Film Festival premiere of The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander and Amber Heard at the Q&A for Toronto International Film Festival premiere of The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl is indeed a very beautifully-made film. Director Tom Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen, who both previously collaborated on The King’s Speech and Les Misérables, created a vivid visual story that imitates its subjects with a painting-like quality, fine in its details and gorgeous in landscapes. The delicacy extends to Redmayne’s performance as well, who breathes life into Lilli’s story with a sense of femininity and sensitivity in such a way that his work is once more a standout amongst this year’s award-vying films. As to whether it will triumphantly outshine others, that’s a toss-up in a very crowded year of performances; but it is noteworthy.

Although this film works as an entry point into the conversation surrounding the LGBTQ community, as Lilli and Gerda’s story unfolds, you realize very quickly that Redmayne salvages whatever he can from a fairly surface-level exploration of the trans experience.  It is surprising that The Danish Girl does not offer more given how loosely the film adapted the story from a novel of the same name and from the actual historical details of Lilli and Gerda’s relationship; if liberties were to be taken with the original story, it feels like The Danish Girl could have found more poignancy in its depth of storytelling.

The Danish Girl often sways towards Gerda and Lilli’s relationship, their ability to navigate Lilli’s transition and Gerda’s own journey into acceptance and support, which is highlighted beautifully by Alicia Vikander. Like Redmayne’s performance in Theory, Vikander will soon become the household name she deserves to be as a result of her work in The Danish Girl; in fact, she’s one of the primary reasons that makes this movie work, and why you should go see it. She delivers that aspect of the story with such a balanced sense of strength and vulnerability that convincingly represents the deep love and respect that Lilli and Gerda had for one another, which eventually becomes the persisting message of the film. Even though I’m not satisfied with the reach of its storytelling, I am definitely on board with that conclusion.

I screened The Danish Girl at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It is now out in theatres across Canada. 

 

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The Overload (Trailer Edition): Civil War! Batman vs. Superman! Girls!

Welcome to The Overload, where I present a collection of quasi-stale pop culture bits and news and noms and talk about them like they’re as fresh as theatre popcorn. This week’s edition focuses on trailers because apparently nothing feeds a post-American Thanksgiving soul more than superheroes fighting each other and HBO shows…or at least the prospect of those things. 

Captain America and Iron Man Are Divorcing (CIVIL WAR TRAILER!)

I love me some Marvel Cinematic Universe as much as the next guy (which would be my dad, who enjoys anything with explosions) but there aren’t too many in the collection that are as strong of an offering as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The Russo Brothers directed a compelling political drama the featured superheroes and S.H.I.E.L.D.; by the looks of the melodramatic breakup between Captain America and Iron Man in this trailer, Captain America: Civil War doesn’t quite look like it’ll follow suit (save for that Iron Man vs. Captain America/Winter Soldier Sega Genesis battle at the end.) With that said, Civil War is going to have a huge impact on the MCU and could propel a lot of great storytelling in the Phase 3 films to come, including the upcoming Sony-Marvel partnered Spiderman reboot (with the titular character set to appear in Civil War) and the big cinematic battle that we’re all really waiting for, Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 and Part 2. The real winning point in this trailer: Black Panther makes his debut in the MCU.

The Trial of the Century Returns To Television on American Crime Story

I was a little kid when the O.J. Simpson murder trial took place but its significance, both historically and in popular culture, is not lost on me. I don’t think there will be one generation that will ever go without coming across a reference, parody or journalism piece on the trial, and American Crime Story may be the way for many to connect with the story today. I’m excited for this  Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror StoryScream Queens)-produced series because it appears to play off of the publicity and public perception that gave way to this highly controversial case worldwide. I’ll need someone to confirm how accurate David Schwimmer’s portrayal of Robert Kardashian is when the show airs, but I’ll be tuning in regardless.

Batman vs. Superman: A Comedy?

I know a lot of people hated Man of Steel and its poor characterization, senseless destruction, etc, but I actually didn’t think it was so disastrous.  It feels like director Zack Snyder is conscious of that commentary based on some of the plot hints in the Batman vs. Superman trailers as he continues to attempt to drive the DC film into the gritty, dark realm that made Nolan’s iconic Batman trilogy. I think there could be potential for a film that may satisfy moviegoers more than the predecessor if Snyder consciously strives for more authentic characterization. It is, however, challenging to hope for that outcome when you’ve got Jesse Eisenberg as a cartoon-y Lex Luthor, which may have worked for say, Jim Carrey as The Riddler, but not Lex Luthor. I think this is yet another divisive moment in the DC cinematic universe which I’ll have to completely reserve my judgment for when I see the movie in 2016.

“Girls” Grows Up in Season 5

Thematically, HBO’s Girls is one show that reflects the tumultuous weirdness of millennial adults pretty well, and it seems that in the fifth season, Shosh, Jessa, Marlie and Hannah are finally on the precipice of the adulthood that their parents always wished they would embrace. Will every episode start with a different song from Adele’s ’25’? Likely.