Rated: R for some sexuality and full nudity. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: November 27, 2015 Released by: Focus Features
A new classy, sophisticated drama from meticulously nuanced Tom Hooper (Les Miserables) isn't as emotionally resonant if you think of what he did with Colin Firth in The King's Speech. Yet, he gets another vividly provocative performance from Eddie Redmayne (last year's winner for The Theory of Everything in a remarkable portrait of Stephen Hawking) as 1920s Danish landscape artist Einar Wegener who apparently was one of the first to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. Given what's unfolding you might think an overly tasteful décor mutes the story (penned by Lucinda Dixon) to some degree.
Early in The Danish Girl there is a capricious interplay between Einar and his portrait painter wife Gerda (Swedish thespian Alicia Vikander, appearing in many films of late including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Ex Machina). The bookended approach of a loving marriage flawed nearly incidentally may have its fascinations, but may feel shallow to certain discerning arthouse cineastes (as this English-slanted cinema will have much appeal on the moderate scale). The dialogue may have a stilted quality in affecting accented English, but there's much intrigue for Gerda about her husband's private dismay and need to begin publicly becoming known as Lili Elbe. Especially after posing as a woman for her paintings which gets her out of a professional slump but coincides with much personal hardship.
Is The Danish Girl as keen and surprising in dealing with sexual identity (albeit in a timely way considering the situation of a former Olympic gold medalist in 1976)? Maybe not that much in its delicately, stunning way if you recall the Brandon Teena crisis-oriented character from Kimberly Peirce's poignant Boys Don't Cry. But, the filmmakers do insinuate a fascination and instinctive dexterity around the origins of what could entice a transsexual pioneer, say, from the observance of an adult peep show in the City of Lights. Hooper's biopic, besides summoning a little of Everything (especially around the marital discord) also, in one instance at least, The Imitation Game when Einar is roughed up on a raised platform. Supporting performance in some cases may be broad and strident when it comes to Adrian Schiller's art dealer or Amber Heard's dancer. But, Ben Whishaw (Spectre, Skyfall, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) rises to the occasion as Henrik, a worthy suitor for Lili.
You can say this about what goes a long way to make this interrupted Girl rather striking on screen is how Hooper works so precisely with his craftspeople, especially designer Eve Stewart and lenser Danny Cohen to open up spaces as well as angular acuity when it comes to the confined. And around the stunning visual polish and panache in early 20th Century Copenhagen (as evident in the verdant countryside shots), Vikander nearly matches her daring counterpart (perhaps having a little Bryce Dallas Howard look in some profiles) in not being as awkward in the line readings as endowing Gerda with a noticeable depth and arc that should connect with many distaff patrons (who, among others may see it as more of a leading presence). This complicated, striking look with a certain emotional presence in Alexandre Desplat's score which foreshadows the calamitous should catch many a pundit's eye that seems like sure-fire Oscar bait with the graceful, dainty Redmayne a definite contender to be in the esteemed company of Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks.
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