Sunday, January 3, 2016

Movie Review #356: "The Danish Girl" (2015)

Movie"The Danish Girl"
Director: Tom Hooper
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
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Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) are both artists living in Copenhagen. When Gerda's latest model doesn't show up, she asks her husband to wear the modeling outfit and sit in her stead. It is then Einar starts to realize what he has been repressing his whole life: he is actually a woman living in the body of a man. Gerda now must come to terms with her husband transitioning from Einar to Lili and find a way to support her decision to live as a woman.

With a penchant for dramatic period piece epics, Tom Hooper directs "The Danish Girl," a mostly true adaptation of the life of Einar Wegener, who was born a man but knew inside, in the deepest depths of his soul, that he was a woman, who he called Lili. Einar and his wife Greda, played by the remarkably wonderful Alicia Vikander, were both painters living happily married in Copenhagen for many years before Einar realized he was, in fact, suppressing who he really was. If this wasn't Leonardo DiCaprio's year, Eddie Redmayne would probably have a good chance at winning his second back-to-back best actor Oscar. At one point in 2015, however, we started to wonder if his work on "The Theory of Everything" was a fluke given the abomination of a performance he gave in "Jupiter Ascending," but we are now glad to say it wasn't just a one-time thing. Redmayne is rather astounding as Einar/Lili. He manages to capture the struggle of a person who is transgender living in a time when it was viewed as a mental disease that could land you in an asylum. Redmayne is able to be both Lili and Einar separately and at the same time, putting on a facade as Einar and deeply exposing his true self as Lili. When we say exposing, we mean it in more than one was as Redmayne's physical transformation may not seem like much, but he bares his body and soul for the role, so much so that he has received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal. Though we don't think he will walk away with the award, it is still a strong performance nonetheless. A stronger contender for awards this season, though still very much a dark horse in a year permeated with incredible performances by women, would be Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener, a wife who struggles to come to terms with her once passionate husband's transformation from male to female. Again, this film taking place in the 1920's, times were much, much different than they are now. Gerda constantly does her best to support Lili through it all, and though she is hurt because she is losing a husband, she seems to become receptive to the thought of making a new friend. Vikander has seemingly come out of nowhere, a relatively newcomer to the acting scene, but was in everything in 2015. She appeared in five films released in 2015 and had a great showing in "Ex Machina." Now with "The "Danish Girl" under her belt, she is finally getting the recognition she deserves as she has also received Golden Globe nominations for her performance in both "Ex Machina" and here as well. Vikander and Redmayne are a powerhouse acting duo if we've ever seen one.

Tom Hooper is notoriously known for making visually stunning films, and this one is no exception. His framing is ever so delicate and yet powerfully noticeable, just like the theme of this movie. The film begins with a selection of gorgeous countryside landscapes and waterways, the wind rustling through trees, and tall, beautiful buildings throughout Copenhagen line the screen in a delicious fashion. While these buildings remain in the background, oddly enough, when his actors are in center-frame, somehow these buildings are still in the picture, but not merely as props, more as if they are characters themselves, as if Copenhagen itself is a character in "The Danish Girl." The cinematography here is breathtaking, mirroring its performances, and yet somehow, there is still something about it that didn't fully grip us. Even though I had a steady stream of tears during the end of the movie, BigJ wasn't as emotionally impacted the way he wanted to be for a film of this magnitude. Maybe it's just the writing of the screenplay and a lack of strong dialogue, but something about "The Danish Girl" seems so rudimentary, so pedestrian, and though passable as both a biography and a drama, still needed more. Obviously, the subject matter here will be very divisive and is definitely not for every movie goer out there. Films like one often receive judgment and criticism based on subject alone site unseen, which is both unfair and condemnatory at the same time. Even with the misstep in lacking emotional depth, "The Danish Girl" still manages to have tremendous performances and brings to light the story of a woman potentially unknown to those of us with no frame of reference. It's worth a watch for these aspects alone.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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