REVIEW: The Danish Girl (2015)

Release Poster – Focus Features

The following is a review of The Danish Girl, a Tom Hooper film.

When I first heard about this film going into production I was fairly intrigued. The fact of the matter is that while I don’t know much about the story or the people it is depicting, I am a Dane, and I walk the streets of Copenhagen every week. I was excited to have this biopic feel authentic, but some things did leave me somewhat puzzled and annoyed after the end credits.

The Danish Girl follows Einar Wegener (played by Eddie Redmayne), a Danish man, who realizes that he has never felt right about his body or his image. Einar is married to Gerda Wegener (played by Alicia Vikander). Gerda tries her best to help her husband become the person he was always meant to be, but this change in Einar alters their marriage in a powerful way, and not always for the better.

Now, let’s talk about my problems of authenticity. Firstly, while I am aware of the fact that these types of films need to get the largest audience possible, I thought it was an outright shame to have the film be in English almost from start to finish. I didn’t spot a single scene wherein the main characters spoke Danish, other than saying names of Danes or Danish cities. However, now that I think of it, I’m not even sure they said København (Copenhagen).

Now, I understand if some people would say that my expectations were a tad unrealistic. And sure, a British director and a British male lead don’t automatically scream Denmark, or Scandinavia even. But I was somewhat annoyed by the fact that every single main character is British, Swedish, American, or Belgian. Vikander, the marvelous Swedish actress, has spoken the Danish language in other films, and I admit that that was what gave me hope for some Danish scenes being in the film.

My second, and final, problem of authenticity is a genuine disappointment for every Dane watching the film. See, Denmark doesn’t have mountains. Yet, for some unknown reason, Tom Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen chose to film the scenes showing Vejle Fjord, a very important part of the film, in Norway, I believe. Now, this wouldn’t bother me as much if the film hadn’t executed the scenes in the streets of Copenhagen as beautifully as it did. Copenhagen plays a huge part in the film, and to see the director completely shun Vejle Fjord, as it seems he has, just felt wrong.

The term Oscar bait is used rather pejoratively as of late, and I can understand why. Some films just feel intentionally made to seek praise and accolades for being topical or for adapting important topic matter in a good way, not necessarily to be a good film. The Danish Girl did have that Oscar bait feeling all over it, but I won’t hold that against the film, which I did find powerful from time to time. But its power comes not from the subject matter, I’d say, but rather from the sensational performances by three of its stars.

Let’s start with Amber Heard. Heard plays Ulla, a friend of both Gerda and Einar, and she is absolutely wonderful in this role. I’ve got to be honest; I thought it truly was a sublime supporting character performance. Heard shined in every scene she was in, and it is a shame that she wasn’t more relevant to the plot of the film. I would love to see Amber Heard take on more of these fun and flirtatious roles. I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed with Amber Heard in a film.

But, obviously, she isn’t really all that relevant to the plot. Eddie Redmayne was set to be the star of the film, and I thought he was very true and honest in his performance as Einar and Lili. However, I must admit that I was much more elated with Alicia Vikander’s performance as Gerda. Vikander was a revelation in EX_MACHINA and En Kongelig Affære, and in The Danish Girl she is just as strong. Her performance steals the film right out of the hands of Eddie Redmayne.

You feel Vikander’s character much more than Redmayne’s, in my opinion. By Einar becoming who he wants to be, she, in turn, loses a key part of her marriage – and watching her character go through this was breathtaking, emotional, and is just another stunning performance by Alicia Vikander.

All in all, The Danish Girl isn’t as complete as I’d like it to be. Redmayne, Vikander, Heard, and the city of Copenhagen shine in the film, but the film feels much more safe than I expected. It doesn’t really establish itself as an important film, and it wasn’t as moving as I felt it could have been.

8 out of 10

-I’m Jeffrey Rex

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