The Danish Girl (Focus Features, R)

film danish-girlThis isn’t a claim I make about movies very often at all, so I hope it carries some weight: The Danish Girl is a sexy movie.

 

 

 

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You would be forgiven for mistaking The Danish Girl as a typical awards-bait type of movie: It concerns a hot topic right now (trans people); it stars last year’s Best Actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in what looks to be a showy role; it’s directed by Tom Hooper, who directed such awards fodder as 2010’s The King’s Speech and 2012’s Les Misérables (neither of which I had much use for); and it’s being released in the height of awards season. And while flawless it is not, it is surprisingly interesting—easily Hooper’s best work, and a film I can recommend with few, if any, reservations.

The movie is based on David Ebershoff’s novel about the true story of one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery, Lili Elbe (Redmayne), circa 1926 Copenhagen. Elbe begins the film as male artist Einar Wegener, married to a bohemian-leaning artist named Gerda (Alicia Vikander, in her fifth film released in the U.S. in 2015, the most notable being Ex Machina). Gerda’s emergency need of some at least female-looking and -attired legs to complete a portrait, and enlisting Einar to help gives life to heretofore dormant tendencies of Einar’s. These tendencies aren’t really shown in the film at all prior to this—though that’s forgivable, as the leg-modeling happens maybe 10 minutes into the film’s 120-minute runtime.

Interestingly, Gerda supports Einar’s transition, not entirely unlike Fergus does of Dil in The Crying Game, if you don’t mind me making that probably too-obvious and lazy comparison. From there, Einar begins investigating how one would go about physically switching from having external genitalia to internal genitalia, and grindhouse fans will be disappointed to find results in zero gory genital mutilation scenes. (For that, we’ll always have the 1977 exploitation doc Let Me Die a Woman.)

This isn’t a claim I make about movies very often at all, so I hope it carries some weight: The Danish Girl is a sexy movie. And I say that in a way that would probably apply to pretty much anyone open-minded enough to see a movie like The Danish Girl in the first place. Male or female, gay or straight, there’s something here that will suit your fancy. It’s all handled tastefully, and a lot of said sexiness comes from an overall ambience. The production design and cinematography veer noticeably feminine, unlike most movies, which gives the film an all-encompassing air of heady romance.

I never have and still don’t like Eddie Redmayne, and am somewhat annoyed that this is his second good performance in a row after last year’s The Theory of Everything, the film for which he won the aforementioned Best Actor Oscar. (Wait, I temporarily forgot that he was in Jupiter Ascending between Theory and Girl—that’s probably why I don’t like him.) He hasn’t entirely eradicated his Stephen Hawking tics here, but he does land a charming coquettishness once he begins transitioning to Lili, and his unusually wide smile calls to mind Cameron Diaz. Elsewhere, the usually good Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone, Bullhead) is somewhat weak as Einar’s childhood friend Hans, the editing sometimes leaves something to be desired, and the first half is noticeably stronger than the second. Regardless, these are all minor problems in what is overall a surprisingly satisfying film. It’s an awards bait movie that I won’t be too upset to see pick up some awards. | Pete Timmermann

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