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Film review: "The Danish Girl"


As the first person to undergo sexual-reassignment surgery, Danish artist Lili Elbe (played here by Eddie Redmayne) is a transgender pioneer, but while Tom Hooper's Oscar-baity biopic of Elbe's life is well-intentioned and pretty to look at, it adds up to little else. As portrayed in "The Danish Girl," Lili's transition seems to spring forth from a sudden fascination with dresses and makeup, and the focus on the performative aspects of gender can't help but feel like a reductive representation of what being transgender truly means. Sure, lipstick and stockings may play a part, but these elements come at the expense of Hooper even attempting to delve into Lili's internal struggle. When Lili mimics the studied movements of a woman performing in a peep show, it's an exaggerated femininity far removed from any woman's real behavior, and it's symptomatic of the film's skin deep portrayal of Lili's experience.

Lucinda Coxon's script is more effective at exploring the strain Lili's transition puts on her marriage to fellow painter Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). Vikander is effortlessly empathetic as Wegener provides selfless support, despite knowing that it means losing her husband forever, and Redmayne's overly mannered performance pales in comparison. But cisgender actors in transgender roles often get Oscar's attention, and Redmayne is likely to do the same. The true details of the couple's lives are infinitely more complicated, though all the kinks have been ironed out in the name of making their story accessible to as broad an audience as possible; there's a safe, prestige-picture tastefulness to its telling. As an introduction to what the transgender transitional process entails (which it assuredly will be for many in the audience) the film is perfectly serviceable, but there's a missed opportunity to have created something much more revolutionary.