A heavy-handed film that somehow earns it
The Danish Girl (2015): A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.
I am so conflicted about this film. On the one hand, this film is blatant and obvious Oscar bait. Every aspect of this film screams it and it's full of heavy-handed "well, now you should feel like this now" moments, and everything is played as safe as humanely possible. The film features an obviously Oscar-bait-y performance from Eddie Redmayne, and honestly? The whole film feels very pretentious. And yet.....I was suckered in. Damnit Tom Hooper. This film's subject matter is so engrossing, and the main character's story is one that is emotional no matter how pretentious the environment around it is. Within 5 minutes I could tell this film was Oscar bait. And yet 119 minutes later I didn't care. How did this happen?
Well, let's switch things up and talk negatives first so I can get them out of my system. First off, I really did not like the cinematography. This film only shot its characters from straight on, and to me here it feels like "art for the sake of art" and very superficial. This is not Snowpiercer or The Grand Budapest Hotel where nearly every shot in the film is shot from left to right or straight on for a reason. Here only the dialogue was, and it just felt like they did it to say, "Oh look at me, look at how important I am." I also hated the extraordinarily obvious music cues. The music would swell at an emotional moment and die down elsewhere, further adding to the, "you must feel like this right now." vibe that seeped through this entire film. Really the vibe that seeped through this film was pretentiousness, and had the film been shot with a bit more respect for its subject matter it might have been one of the best films of the year.
As I said, this film is very heavy-handed. And yet.....even though I knew it was trying to make me feel emotional at any given moment, I still felt myself becoming emotional. It takes a lot for a film to be able to obviously say to me, "Hey, I'm going to make you feel emotion right now." And then actually make me feel emotion at that moment. Arguably the biggest reason for this was Alicia Vikander. If there's any takeaway to be had from this film, it's that Alicia Vikander is a freaking movie star who has inserted herself squarely into the Hollywood elite. For me, she almost single-handedly carried most of this film as (wait for it) the Danish girl: a wife struggling to cope with her husband's transformation into his true self. If Eddie Redmayne's performance felt super pretentious, Vikander's felt the exact opposite. Her performance was extremely grounded and flawless, and were it any other year when the Supporting Actress category was filled with, you know, only Supporting Actress performances, I'd say she'd be guaranteed an Oscar for this performance. But no, Rooney Mara's harrowing performance as the LEAD in Carol is in this category so we'll see what happens.
But it doesn't end there. While Redmayne was Oscar-ing it up, his character arc was fantastic. What Lili goes through to become her true self in this film is heartbreaking, and by the end I was certainly rocking the ugly cry. This film is one that should be watched by everyone who is struggling to find their true identity so that they can realize that they are not alone. Not only that, but Vikander has an excellent story arc she goes through as well. The supporting cast is limited, but the two other biggest characters are also played excellently by Ben Whishaw (I freaking love this man) and Matthias Schoenaerts. Finally, the costume and makeup crew were outstanding, providing some much needed depth to an otherwise (relatively) shallow film. Why there's only 3 makeup nominations every year is beyond me because it locks out some otherwise worthy candidates like The Danish Girl. Please fix this Academy!!!
Ultimately, The Danish Girl.....well, The Danish Girl has evoked more thought out of me when writing my review than almost any other film has this Oscar season. I mean I've gotten to this point in the review and I STILL have no idea what number I'm going to give this film. Most of the time, obvious Oscar bait films can't get past the part where they're obvious Oscar bait, and I have no problem picking apart these pretentious films. Just ask Trumbo. Yet I couldn't help but enjoy The Danish Girl because its story is inspiring no matter how you portray it. I think I'm gonna cop out and say this was a good film. It truly TRULY could've been a perfect film had it not been filmed in such a pretentious manner. Had the Oscar bait feeling not seeped through its pores. But this just holds the film back from reaching its true potential, and what we end up getting is merely a good film. I hope one day this story gets retold and is treated with the respect it deserves. But this film is definitely a good start.
The Critique: Despite its pretentious Oscar bait nature, The Danish Girl is an emotional and courageous story featuring one of the year's best performances from Alicia Vikander.
The Recommendation: Definitely a great date film as well as one that should be watched by the entire LGBTQIAP+ community. Really, I think anyone who knows someone who might by transgender should watch this film so as to try and see the human side of it.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
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