TIFF Review: The Danish Girl
Josh Brolin snuck into the premiere of The Danish Girl on Saturday night. This is unusual for a star at a film festival to do, to make time in their busy interview and party schedule to check out another movie. But when asked about it the next day by etalk host Ben Mulroney, Josh said, "I'm a fan, man!" and explained that he had a "chemical need" to see the movie as soon as possible.
A "chemical need."
And holy sh-t does The Danish Girl deliver. Yes, Eddie Redmayne could win back-to-back Best Actor Oscar statues, joining Tom Hanks and Spencer Tracy. And yes, Alicia Vikander is WAY more talented than her cream-in-her-coke NYT profile would suggest. Her emotive dark eyes carry the movie.
After premiering in Venice to muted praise and a few critics dubbing it heavy-handed or derivative, The Danish Girl premiered to a standing ovation at TIFF and it's one that it deserved.
The film opens with Alicia's Gerda barking orders at a subject, to get a "man to submit to a woman's gaze." She's a painter in a creative (and commercial) slump, and it doesn't help that her male subject isn't co-operative. Quickly, after another client backs out of a session, Amber Heard, Gerda's carefree, old school manic pixie BFF, suggests that Eddie's Einar (Gerda's husband) help them out by posing as a woman. She dubs him "Lili." Initially, Einar is resistant to putting on the dress. He flat out refuses, but eventually submits because, ostensibly, he can't say no to his wife. But already you know. There's a longing in his eyes that suggests he has a secret. When he tries to open up to his wife later on, she says she knows everything about him already... except she doesn't. He's trying to suppress something, but doesn't have the trans-friendly vocabulary or awareness to understand what he's feeling.
Soon, you learn Gerda and Einar have been struggling to conceive. He appears to be checked out and doesn't care about her fertility. He begins to ask, to want to pose as "Lili", and attend parties as her, too. It's here where he meets an old friend who kisses Lili... knowing full well it's Einar. Lili and Einar begin to forge separate lives and completely separate identities. Gerda embraces this. She teaches Lili how to be feminine, how to pose like a woman and dresses her for functions. Just as Gerda's Lili portraits begin to sell, Einar decides he prefers to live his life as Lili. She's more confident. She's happier. She begins to disassociate as Einar and to choose to just live as Lili. Gerda's exasperated frustration at her husband develops into begrudging love and support as she learns her husband, who no longer desires her sexually, is happiest as Lili. Plus, the Lili portraits are good business. Her heart breaks as she grieves the loss of her husband, but together, Gerda and Lili try to help Lili become the woman she knows she is... at a time when her identity conflict is not only considered an anomaly, but a perversion.
Shot brilliantly with Tom Hooper's soft lens and focus style, the visuals not only highlight what it means to have a woman living inside of a man's body, dormant for years, but also how this change can impact those you love. It's not a derivative movie because it spells out what it could mean to be trans, it shows what it means to understand this loss, or detachment from yourself before you have the words to self-identify.
Last year, when Eddie Redmayne premiered The Theory of Everything in Toronto, there were about 14 press outlets on the red carpet, waiting to chat with him. It was a world premiere, and while it had been screened for critics who knew he and Felicity Jones were excellent, the "get" was the This is Where I Leave You carpet across the street. Tina Fey, you guys. This time, The Danish Girl was one of the most-attended carpets. Over 40 outlets. And Eddie and Alicia made sure to talk to each one, give them TONS of time, and say hi to the fans. This year, The Danish Girl was the "get” and it certainly lived up to the promise.
Wenn, Tommaso Boddi/ Michael Tran/ Getty Images