The Danish Girl (2015)

(Video on Demand, March 2016) 2015 was the year when transgender issues hit the mainstream like never before, but it’s not clear whether this helped or hindered The Danish Girl. Reportedly a very fictionalized account of the first clinically transgendered person, this is also a recognizable piece of Oscar-courting filmmaking, complete with credible historical recreations, flawed but heroic characters, progressive social issues and a self-important tone. It seeks legitimacy through art, blurs the messy inconvenient details of its inspiration and wraps up everything with a sad bow. It usually works: director Tom Hooper is, by now, a veteran at this sort of thing, and effortlessly moves through period sets, and Eddie Redmayne does turn in a showy but compelling performance as a man becoming a woman—although Alicia Viklander is just as interesting as the character who reacts to the transition. The historical atmosphere of the early-twentieth-century European art scene is well executed and the drama goes slightly beyond what we’d expect from the film’s slug-line. The Danish Girl is, in short, a bit more interesting than expected, helping it avoid feeling like it’s exploiting the issue-of-the-moment. It could have been better: At times, the cinematography feels overly staid, feeling like a series of isolated room dramas rather than presenting its world with the bustling energy suggested at the edges. It’s also a film condemned by facts to a rather conventional dramatic arc—comforting given the touchy subject matter, but no less predictable. For all the sympathies we can have for the character’s plight, it’s also locked into the filmmaking template proper to those kinds of movies.

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