The notion that Eddie Redmayne might win a second Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Einer Wegener/Lili Elbe in Tom Hooper‘s The Danish Girl (Focus Features, 11.27) died last night in Toronto.
Okay, it didn’t die but it certainly downshifted. And the cause of that downshift was the film itself, a reasonably decent effort which screened for press & industry yesterday morning and the public last night. It seemed to play well enough, but it didn’t seem to lift anyone off the ground either. And Redmayne seems caught in a kindly web of calculation. As submissive and devotional and brave as his performance is — you have to give him credit and respect for really letting Lili into his soul — the effort is gently muffled by Lucinda Coxon‘s script (based on David Evershoff‘s same-titled book) and Hooper’s direction, which feels overly poised and burnished and finally confining.
The Danish Girl is a finely rendered, exquisitely sensitive, middle-of-the-road Oscar-bait film that will win respect and applause among the 50-plus Hollywood guild & Academy set. But it’s almost bloodless — well acted, handsomely captured and intriguing to some extent, lulling and softly emotional but never fascinating and absolutely dead fucking terrified of doing or saying anything that might be construed as brash or nervy or irreverent or out of synch with today’s p.c. drumbeat.
I felt like I was outside this movie all the way through, and while it’s extremely subtle and well-tuned, I decided at the 45-minute mark that I probably don’t want to watch it a second time. It certainly doesn’t pop any corks or build enough steam to make any tea kettles whistle. I appreciated the effort but I didn’t feel engaged, and I even felt bored from time to time.
The 1920s-set story of the first-ever surgical transition from malehood to womanhood, specifically by a married Denmark artist named Einer Wegener (Redmayne) with the somewhat conflicted support of his painter wife Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), is obviously noteworthy and marginally interesting as far as it goes. But I felt a certain distance from the get-go. I watched it, respected the effort and admired the openness and bravery of Redmayne’s performance. Not to mention the real stand-out factor, which is Vikander’s performance as Gerda.
But I never felt all that drawn in. I don’t see the big metaphor in the transgender experience — due respect but to me it’s a very specific theme and turf. And for me The Danish Girl is mostly a museum-piece thing. It’s touching as far as it goes, but it doesn’t breathe. It’s staid and measured and languid to a fare-thee-well.
And Redmayne’s performance is all delivered at the same pitch. You’ll never find a more delicate construction but it’s all one note. It almost kills you with poise and delicacy and kindness and sweetness and little rivulets of tears. The story is the story, but the performance has no shifting gears, no modulation, no jazz or verve. Redmayne is so gentille he made my lips pucker.
Give me Jack Lemmon‘s Daphne in Some Like It Hot!
Yes, Eddie opens himself up completely to the role. He really and truly submits and channels, and that effort has my full respect. But his Eignar/Lili gives off so much in the way of quiet and demure looks and sparkling eyes that after a while I began to feel a toothache. Or do I mean a headache? One of the two.
Everything Eddie/Lili/Einar does and says in this film is delicate and dreamy and seemingly created while reclining on a divan. He swoons, dreams, aspires. Ever line he speaks is “I want, I feel, I long for, I feel Lily inside me, I am Lily, you’re so kind to me, anything you want, this is me, what I need to be, who I am,” etc.
Eddie will not be winning a second Best Actor Oscar. He’ll be nominated, I presume, but forget winning. Not gonna happen. You know who is happening? Vikander as Best Supporting Actress.
I’m not 100% sure that The Danish Girl will even be Best Picture nominated, to be completely frank. It might be but it’s so gliding and constrained and, truth be told, somewhat dull at times. Hooper wanted to be so respectful of Wegener/Elbe and was so determined not to give offense that The Danish Girl has no blood in its veins save for Eddie’s sadness and longing and happiness when he/she switches over.
In a phrase, The Danish Girl has been good-tasted to death. It’s glides and waltzes attractively along the proverbial dance floor, but there’s a whole world outside the dance floor that it doesn’t acknowledge much less step into. After it ended I had a strange urge to want to go out to a strip club and get a lap dance, and I’ve never had a lap dance in my life. It also made me want to snort cocaine, and I haven’t touched the stuff in 30 years.
40 -odd years ago Charlie the Tuna was told that “Starkist “doesn’t want tunas with good taste…it wants tunas that taste good!” The Danish Girl has so much good taste it could choke a horse. Wait…does that work? Should I have said “choke a tunafish”?
An impression from The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg: “At the end of the day, The Danish Girl may not pack as much of an emotional punch for, or be of as much immediate interest to, Academy members — most of whom, we know, are of a certain age — as was, say, The King’s Speech or The Theory of Everything, both of which also screened at TIFF in the Princess of Wales Theatre. But its beauty and timeliness ought to make up for that enough to land it in the same place those films did: the best picture race.”