Perhaps it was the bizarro audience with whom I experienced this film, but Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl comes across less like an emotional, complex love story and more like camp: pure and simple camp.
Of course it’s hard to go into this movie, about a Danish woman (born a man) transitioning into her true physical self, truly “blind;” audiences have some idea what they’re getting themselves into. But even the movie itself doesn’t seem to take the source material seriously. Every line that alludes to “change” or “knowing oneself” is taken with a wink, a smile, even a giggle.
The performance by Eddie Redmayne doesn’t help, who reduces Einar Wegener (later Lili) into an awkward, angular wilt of a figure. I can only take so many scenes of him staring at the ground and whispering to the characters around him. Not to discount the toll that the experiences of a 1920s-era transgender woman would have on one’s emotional state, but every scene follows the same pattern. You can predict Redmayne’s reactions before they even happen. His one-trick performance limits how far you can connect with the narrative action, keeping this tale out of the realm of engrossing drama and safely within camp territory.
The most interesting scene for me came during Einar & Gerda’s time in Paris. Einar steals away to go to a peep show, where he watches a woman disrobe and mimics her suggestive poses. More so than simply looking and dressing like a woman, he tries to get in touch with something more internal: a woman’s sensuality. This aspect of the transgender experience is not often reflected in film, and I wish this theme had gone further in the film. But it didn’t.
As visibility for the transgender community grows more prevalent, it’s great to see movies like The Danish Girl even be realized. Having representation onscreen is a positive thing; it’d just be better if it were a good movie.