Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

23 December 2015

The Danish Girl

As soon as I found out Tom Hooper was going to be directing The Danish Girl, I was skeptical. In my mind, Tom Hooper (The King's Speech and Les Misérables) equals Oscar bait and bad direction. The Danish Girl is not really an exception to this rule, but the script and the acting are good enough that I didn't mind nearly as much as I might have.

Maybe I should start with the costumes. The Danish Girl is set in the 1920s and is, in many ways, about costume – about how what we wear corresponds with who we feel we are. So to begin The Danish Girl is beautiful to look at. It also helps that the gorgeous Alicia Vikander (Vogue has, by the way, pronounced 2015 "the year of Alicia Vikander", even if she is unrecognizable on the cover) is wearing all of these clothes.

The Danish Girl is the story of a person named Einar Wegener (played by Eddie Redmayne). Both Einar and his wife Gerda (Vikander) are painters, she a portraitist and he a landscape artist. Through a series of sexy games and little coincidences, Einar starts to become attracted to women's clothing, to wearing it and to dressing as a woman. At a party where he is dressed as a woman, another man kisses him and he (and his wife) both freak out, but gradually he begins to see himself as a woman. Or, to be more accurate – and this is one of the reasons the screenplay really works – he begins to attempt to figure out what is going on with him. Einar, who is sometimes using the name Lili, has not actually made sense of the feelings he/she is feeling.

This journey is the most interesting part of The Danish Girl, and the script spends a good deal of time on this – there is a fascinating sequence where Einar/Lili dresses as a fairy and goes to a library in Paris in order to read about sex perversion and homosexuality. I liked The Danish Girl best during these sequences of discovery and confusion, in which Lili works to become Lili, to find some kind of identity with other people in her world. She is not a homosexual, she decides, she is not a third-sexer, like a fairy; she is a woman, and wants a surgery that will make her a woman.

La Vikander
I liked The Danish Girl quite a bit, but it has its problems, as well. The script is too padded in places. For example, there are at least two separate sequences where someone says "I want to go with you", the other person says "no, I need to do this alone", and then after the person goes alone she immediately decides she didn't want to be alone after all, at which point the person who should have gone with her in the first place shows up after all. This literally happens twice. And there is way too much crying in the movie. Sometimes there are just shots of people crying. Now, there is quite a bit to cry about, of course; times are hard. But I was often confused as to what exactly we were supposed to be crying about at some of these moments. For me the film spent a little too much time on the relationship with Lili and Gerda, too, and not quite enough time on Lili figuring out what was going on with her. We don't for example, get much time at all with Lili and her first male love interest, Henrik, even though this is clearly an important, life-changing period of time for her.

And then there's Hooper's direction. The film is sporadically shot with this odd scoping technique, where the center of the frame is clear and everything around it is slightly distorted. This looks so dumb, and it only happens every once in a while, so that it seems designed to say: Lili is confused, so the world looks slightly confused as well. We know Lili is confused; we're watching the movie. He also does this ridiculous thing where he puts the subject of the camera in an extreme corner of the frame, filling the majority of the frame with blank wall. It is as though Hooper has no idea how to shoot more than one thing at any given time. Extreme close-ups and shots that are mostly empty wall – these seem to be Hooper's standbys. They drove me crazy. I really think he is an awful director.

But the acting in The Danish Girl is great. Vikander is fabulous, and Eddie Redmayne is better here than he was in last year's The Theory of Everything. The film also has an excellent supporting cast – Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch, Ben Whishaw, and Adrian Schiller. There is lots of other great stuff, too. The costumes are beautiful, the score is excellent, the art direction is always interesting, even when it is shot poorly, and the screenplay is mostly very good.

Oscar possibilities for The Danish Girl: a bunch. Best actor, best actress, costumes, score, art direction, adapted screenplay, at least. A cinematography nomination wouldn't surprise me either, even though I thought the photography was awful.