Don’t worry everyone, I’m here, there’s no need to panic, I’ve got my big girl pants on, I’ve got my laptop open, and as your Resident Trans Film Critic, I’ve come to give you the freshest word on Tom Hooper’s latest Oscar-bait plea to the middle-brow. I know you’ve all been huddled around the trash can fire, anxious for my pronouncement, speaking in hushed tones so that none of your other liberal friends hear you about how boring and leaden you think The Danish Girl is. They all look at you like you just committed manslaughter when you speak an ill word about Eddie Redmayne’s “powerful” (pathetic) “brave” (whiney) “astounding” (one note) performance, the daggers in their eyes letting you know that this is not the place, this is not the time. This movie is to be taken seriously because it’s about Issues that Were On TV The Other Day.
Let’s pause a moment, just in case you came here not aware of what The Danish Girl is trying to sell you. It’s the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first transgender women known to have undergone gender confirmation surgery, and her relationship with Gerda Wegener, her wife. Beginning while Lili is still presenting as male, it tracks the couple’s relationship from Lili’s early crossdressing to her transition to her eventual death, focusing on the way their perceptions of themselves and each other change, as well as the way they interact with society at large. You see, dear reader, this is why this movie is serious, on the bleeding edge of the zeitgeist. Critics around the world have a film they can praise as not only beautiful, but radical, powerful, and Important (capital I, always).
But they’ve been tricked, bamboozled! Hucksters are in their midsts! Finks with tongues of poison spitting lies, telling everyone who so much as mentions the word “boredom” that they’ll be hanged at sunrise for their crimes by the Oscar voters themselves! I’m here to clear the air, and as any liberal knows, it is my authority (and the authority of those like me) that presides in all matters of Movies About Those People. So please, if anyone questions you, you have my permission to show them this review. You don’t have to pretend any longer. The truth of the matter, the heart of it, the very soul that the Good Ship Hollywood must fight for, is this: The Danish Girl is just not a good film.
Oh, certainly, it looks good. The costumes must’ve cost a pretty penny, and same with the sets, the lighting, getting the perfect dewey sheen to Redmayne’s perpetually wet eyes. I can’t imagine all the money they must’ve spent paying for microphones sensitive enough to pick up his constant mumbly whispers. It must be difficult when everyone else showed up to act and your lead can barely lift his goddamn eyelids. I imagine half of the footage is actually CGI-enhanced film of him taking a nap (the other half was just footage of him mincing about, which luckily they were able to keep in).
But looking good is not the same thing as being good. To clear the air: yes, it’s offensive to cast a cisgender man as a transgender woman. Full stop. The end. It should come as no surprise that the movie has absolutely nothing interesting to say about transgender people. Obviously. The end. These points should be self-evident to all but the most stubborn of children, and I’m not interested in talking about them here. I’m not here to tell you everything The Danish Girl gets wrong about trans people (I frankly don’t have that much time on my hands). You’ve got google, and, god willing, trans friends to help you out there. I’m talking about this purely as a movie, as nothing but a series of images matched with sound. And when viewed soberly, there’s only one reasonable conclusion. The Danish Girl is a Faberge egg that someone decided to split open, a gorgeous urn filled with the ashes of someone so immensely tedious that no one bothered to give a eulogy at their exceedingly dull funeral.
Tom Hooper is so obsessed with making sure his movie looks like a movie that should win an Oscar that he never tries to make it actually, like, good. Everything falls flat because the characters blend into the textures of the sets, the folds of the clothing; there’s no eroticism in the sex, there’s no fear in the violence, there’s no horror in the sickness, there’s no sadness in the deep, unwavering despondency of Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal. It’s all one flat grey, an unmitigated orgy of self-serving whispers. Hell, even using the word orgy is too strong; it’s more accurate to say that it’s a bunch of people crying while sitting in a large room masturbating while staring at the floor, trying their damnedest not to notice that anyone else is there. There’s nothing here. There’s nothing to this movie, not a single emotional beat that rises from its brackish muck.
This movie is embarrassing. Not because of how it represents me as a transgender woman, but because of how obsessive and single-minded it is in its brown-nosing of the Academy. It’s watching the toadie humiliate himself for the jock’s approval. Tom Hooper didn’t care about this story. He just wants more little gold men. Eddie Redmayne didn’t care about portraying Lili, he’s just on such a high with his last win that he wants another hit. This is mercenary filmmaking at its most crass, even more so than whatever garbage blockbuster gets posited as the death of cinema each year. The people involved saw that transgender people were in the news, and they jumped at the opportunity to make a movie so “current” and “in line with the times” that critics would feel too ashamed to call it what it is: a handsomely mounted corpse with no life inside, an absolute slog of a message movie that at its heart has no message to deliver.
I’m being a bit harsh, and I apologize for that; devoid of context, there’s nothing actively, offensively bad about this movie save Redmayne’s performance, so awash with useless tics that he seems more like a robot malfunctioning than a real person. It’s just bland. It seems to stretch on for hours past its two hour runtime. It’s boiled potatoes that someone dressed up to look like filet mignon. And that’s what really irks me. It’s a movie that wants me to believe it’s about something. It lies to me. It thinks I’m too ignorant to see what’s really going on. It’s all dressed up, but has nowhere interesting to go. It’s that coworker you had once who wanted to talk about politics, who referenced utilitarianism (which they just heard about in their Ethics 101 class), but as soon as you confronted them they wilted and turned on you, unwilling (or unable) to imagine any reality where they are not so, so great and you are so, so proud of them for being great. Tom, Eddie, if you’re listening, and you really do care about helping trans women, then listen to me when I say this: your movie blows, dudes.
Directed by Tom Hooper; written by Lucinda Coxon based on the novel by David Ebershoff; starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts & Ben Whishaw; 120 minutes.
The Danish Girl is currently experiencing a limited release. Check your local theaters for availability.