Review: ‘Danish Girl’ has dynamic duo

26 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Danish Girl’ review: Eddie Redmayne’s journey.

There’s no resting on Oscar laurels for Eddie Redmayne, who has thrown himself into yet another emotional and transformative role in The Danish Girl. In 2005, Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain made romantic love between two men a possible plotline at the multiplex, at a time when that step still felt radical—even if the thwarted lovers at its center were both played by straight actors. Delicately directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), the period drama (*** out of four; rated R; opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles, expands nationwide through December) features the Theory of Everything star as transgender icon Lili Elbe, the first person known to receive gender reassignment surgery. It’s a fictionalized account of the pioneering experience of Lili Elbe, who, in Europe in 1930, became one of the first people to undergo transgender surgery. In 2008, Gus Van Sant’s Milk brought the political battle for gay rights to the movie theater years before even the most optimistic advocates thought marriage equality was a plausible short-term goal—but the actor who won an Oscar for playing California’s first openly gay elected official was, once again, straight.

It’s a performance that’s actually more impressive than the one Redmayne won his Oscar for — playing Stephen Hawking — but he’s not the only standout in this moving love story, as Alicia Vikander proves her thespian mettle in a breakthrough role. The story begins before that transition, when Lili is living as a man, Einar Wegener ( Eddie Redmayne), and is married to Gerda Wegener; she’s played by Alicia Vikander. And at the end, I was like, ‘Let’s just take everything off, I’m just going to photograph you as yourself,’ ” says director Tom Hooper, who last directed Redmayne in Les Misérables. “It was just his own hair, minimal makeup, he was just wearing a slip. In 2013, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club brought attention to the courage of early AIDS activists—even as its two lead characters were a straight HIV-positive man played by a straight actor and a transgender woman played by another straight actor.

Redmayne has different sides of the same character to play — first as Einar Wegener, a talented artist in Copenhagen circa 1926 alongside his wife, fellow painter Gerda (Vikander). Her portraits aren’t having the same success as his pastoral pieces, and when their ballerina friend Ulla (Amber Heard) can’t sit for Gerda’s latest work, she enlists Einar to stand in wearing stockings and a dress. It has long since become officially weird that Hollywood seems to have such trouble locating qualified gay or transgender performers in an industry that is, by all evidence, teeming with both. This movie arrives amid renewed debate over how the trans community is represented on film, with some critics complaining that a cisgender actor was awarded the role of Elbe, instead of an actual trans performer.

Filmmaker Tom Hooper – who is turning into this decade’s dull, dependable Lasse Hallstrom – is very good at keeping his camera on his actors, and letting them explore huge emotions, but he has no particular visual verve. The feminine wardrobe affects him in a startling way — which Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen show through closeups of Einar’s face, as well as his hands feeling the material — and unlocks a new passion inside him. Soon, Gerda finds him wearing her nightgown underneath his masculine clothing, and Einar begins to embrace being Lili more and more. “It doesn’t matter what I wear,” he tells her. “When I dream, they’re Lili’s dreams.” Gerda’s story is heartbreaking but also extremely touching: Her portraits of Lili become the talk of the Paris art world as she remains devoted to her spouse, even as there’s less Einar and more Lili each passing day. The answer may lie not in the lead performances, which are extraordinary, but in the distancing insistence with which both the direction and Lucinda Coxon’s screen adaptation of David Ebershoff’s novel stress the significance of what we’re seeing. “You could be a first-class painter if you found the right subject matter,” a gallery owner tells Gerda.

They leverage the name recognition and box-office power of known stars to explore issues of gender and sexual identity that, for all the U.S.’s recent progress in this domain, may still be unfamiliar and alienating to large portions of the audience both here and around the world. As she grows closer to Einar’s childhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), Gerda never falters in being there for Lili when doctors deem him insane or perverse, and tries to help during his groundbreaking surgery. Polarizing documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, known for his controversial works “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” has returned for his first new film in six years. The supporting characters, from Ulla to Hans to Lili’s other confidante, Henrik (Ben Whishaw), aren’t nearly as strong as the movie’s primary couple, mostly because of a lack of screen time or effort to dig into each person’s motivations. Moore has said he shot the film with a smaller crew than normal, in relative secrecy. “We’ve been very diligent about keeping this under cover,” Moore said in a self-released Periscope video in July.

Much of the early dialogue seems like clumsy foreshadowing — Gerda at one point tells Einar “I’ll never be as pretty as you” — yet there is also a needed sense of humor that grounds tense scenes, buoyed by Alexandre Desplat’s splendid score. When Gerda urges Einar to go as a woman to an artists’ ball—another case of a supposedly playful impulse fitting the narrative arc—she first teaches him to walk like a woman, and I’m sorry but I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering to the much more spontaneous scene in “Silver Streak” when Richard Pryor teaches Gene Wilder to walk like a black man. In the mid-1920s, when a female friend whom Gerda was painting failed to show up for a modeling session, Gerda suggested that the slightly built Einar don her clothes and sit for the portrait in her place. Watching Redmayne’s character blossom into her true self is remarkable, and the awkwardness getting there only helps make it more relatable to audiences who might not be on board with the subject matter initially.

In the words of Lili—whose heavily edited diaries and letters would be published in 1933 under the title Man Into Woman—“I cannot deny … that I enjoyed myself in this disguise. Certainly the flashiest comes from Eddie Redmayne, a hugely talented young actor who follows up his bravura turn as Stephen Hawkins in “A Brief History of Time” with another one here as Einar/Lili. I liked the feel of soft women’s clothing … I felt very much at home in them from the first moment.” This scene of self-discovery comes early in the film, as the shy, reclusive Einar (Eddie Redmayne) first senses himself being transformed into—or, as he will later express it, inhabited by—the flirtatious and playful Lili. (The name is bestowed on Einar’s emerging female self by the Wegeners’ free-spirited dancer friend, winningly played by Amber Heard.) Far from recoiling at her husband’s newfound passion for cross-dressing, Gerda (Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander) at first enters into the spirit of what she perceives to be a mischievous lark. Opening December 23. “Spotlight”: This likely Oscar favorite is both a tribute to old-fashioned investigative journalism and a reminder of how pervasive the Catholic Church’s child molestation scandal was. His gift for understatement translates to a fascinating ambiguity that survives purple passages in which Einar/Lili is seen as a case of multiple personality disorder with melodramatic echoes of “Sybil.” Still, I’d like to put in a very good word for Ms.

The two of them attend a society ball where they pass off the painter as Einar’s visiting cousin from the provinces, fully decked out in makeup, wig, dress and heels. An all-star cast led by Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo play the dogged Boston Globe reporters (whose investigative unit gives the film its title) that exposed the systematic cover-up of abuse in the early 2000s. She has shown glimpses of greatness this year in Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but the actress goes all in with Gerda, who keeps herself in check most of the time yet says it all with a single tear careening down her cheek. The frisson of curiosity that surrounds this unusual-looking guest strikes the bohemian Gerda as both a hoot and a turn-on—at least until she catches another guest (Ben Whishaw) kissing her husband in a secluded corner.

In the movie’s long (a bit too long) middle section, the couple struggles to define what’s taking place inside their marriage and within the body and mind of Lili herself. Teena Brandon ( Hilary Swank), a frightened and fearless young woman—no contradiction, as it turns out—is trying to pass in rural Nebraska as a young man named Brandon Teena. So in many ways it’s a dream come true.” It’s a bittersweet story for fans of print journalism, but it is, at the very least, a stirring portrait of the shoe leather reporting at its best. Prior to the movie’s release there has been plenty of speculation about whether or not the most powerful sports league in America tried to stifle or influence the film, which is expected to be unflattering in its portrayal of their executives. However, the film’s director, Peter Landesman, and Smith have insisted that they operated with complete freedom. “There wasn’t real pressure that they could put to modify the movie because we were at Sony … and I want to give Sony their props, also, because we used real footage, we used the NFL logo, all of that, and it came down to Sony saying: ‘Just use it.

Like Hooper’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech—another drama about two people working together to effect a profound inner transformation in one of them—The Danish Girl can be too tasteful and reverent for its own good. Before Einar’s gender shift begins in earnest the Wegeners are shown as having an active sex life, but once Lili’s identity has emerged there’s a curious reticence to explore what, if anything, the two women do in bed together.

Opening December 25. “Truth”: The story that ultimately sidetracked CBS news anchor Dan Rather’s career, gets revisited in this drama starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford. Was Rather and his team of producers at fault for pushing a story on air before it was fully verified, or were they simply the fall guys for their corporate overlords?

Redford, who is no stranger to playing iconic journalists – he played Bob Woodward famously in “All the President’s Men” – called playing Rather “tricky.” “My job was to be careful not to caricature him but to find the essence of him,” Redford told Matt Lauer on NBC’s “TODAY” in October. There are fewer quiet moments to be found in the score by Alexandre Desplat, which, while lovely in and of itself, is so frequently and vigorously deployed that I began to long for the emotional privacy of being allowed to feel my own feelings on my own time. Now playing. “Beasts of No Nation”: This gorgeously photographed, albeit grisly, look at the life of a child soldier in a never-named African nation, has received an unconventional release.

It’s their loss because this acclaimed film, which features awards-caliber work from Idris Elba and young newcomer Abraham Attah, is a stirring and unsentimental portrait of a very harrowing subject. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the executive producer behind HBO’s “True Detective,” also manages to find moments of hope amid the chaos, which helps the film from feeling like “cultural vegetables.” Streaming now. “Suffragette”: In a year when two women are vying for the presidency, this historical drama – about the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom during the late 19th century and early 20th century – is especially timely. Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep headline the cast, but women also played crucial roles behind the camera as well, both as director, writer and producer. ”It was a unique experience. Now playing in select theaters. “Chi-raq”: Director Spike Lee’s highly anticipated take on gun violence in the city of Chicago is finally seeing the light of day after a somewhat contentious production that drew the ire of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But when Philadelphia was released to popular success after nearly a decade of mainstream cinema—not to mention the government—all but ignoring the AIDS epidemic, I remember many of my friends, gay and straight, being tremendously moved by the film and its reception. The film, drew controversy from the get-go due to its title, which is based on hip-hop meme which conflates Chicago with the war zones of Iraq. “Everything I’ve done has led up to this film,” Lee said in May. If we can just get some of those groundbreaking roles—and maybe even those shiny gold statues—into the hands of lesbian, gay, and transgender actors, the battle against shame will be that much closer to being won.

Several prominent actors, writers and directors found themselves blacklisted and betrayed by a nation steeped in paranoia about the perceived threat of Communism.

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