The Danish Girl **

Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne “works it” too hard, and this story of an early 20th century trans woman from Copenhagen proves too small for the director of “Les Miserables.”

Is it worth $10? No

British director Tom Hooper’s follow-up to his luscious, grand rendering of “Les Misérables” (2012) sees him again working with 34-year-old Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything” [2014]). In this biopic, the versatile actor plays Scandinavian painter Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, one of the first persons known to have undergone gender reassignment surgery.

Early in the “The Danish Girl,” Einar’s wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” [2015]), also a painter, asks him to sit for her one day when her female model is absent. She asks him to put on the model’s hose, shoes and, eventually, has him drape her dress over the front of his body. Close-ups of Einar’s hands gently stroking the silks and lace of the costume—and cutaways of his enraptured facial expressions—indicate he is experiencing a fulfillment of long-repressed desires.

Seeking to further explore his interest in female apparel, he finds no way to hide the fact from Gerda, who has her suspicions anyway. Her difficulties in adjusting to, and accepting, her husband’s gradual transformation figure prominently in the plot. Much more than this, “The Danish Girl” does not offer.

A couple of soap-opera-style scenarios and love triangles that collapse and disappear simply aren’t enough for Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon to build upon. The director is best when working with big, rich stories. It’s no coincidence that his best work (“Les Mis”) features the French Revolution as a subplot! “The King’s Speech” (2010), also excellent, isn’t a mammoth musical, but it derives its grandeur from its royal subjects—including King George VI and his daughter, who would become Queen Elizabeth II.

Also problematic is Redmayne’s second turn in two years playing an exceedingly physical part. Flushed with the success of his Academy Award triumph in the overrated “Theory…,” the actor seems over-confident which, unfortunately, translates into his overacting. His Lili’s smiles are too coy, and he relies too heavily on shifting his eyes in attempts to appear demure. His efforts quickly become tiresome. Redmayne is way too talented to be continually cast as a one-trick pony, and one would hope he’ll resist the industry’s seemingly insatiable hunger for stuntish physicality.

Blame the media and public at-large, too, for creating the desire for such a film. In many ways, 2015 could be considered the year transgender went mainstream:

• January: “Transparent” television series wins two Golden Globes
• April: Caitlyn Jenner comes out as trans woman
• July: “I Am Cait” premiers on E! network in U.S. and Canada
• September: Fuse television network premiers “Transcendent” “reality” show
• December: “The Danish Girl” nominated for three Golden Globes, opens nationwide

So, “The Danish Girl”— and to a lesser degree, “Carol” (both movies open on Christmas day) – benefits in “buzz” from the trendiness of LGBTQ topics and especially transgender stories in the media this year.

Despite some striking cinematography and fine performances from César Award winner Mattias Schoenaerts (“Rust and Bone” [2012]) and Vikander, it never blossoms into a truly artistic film. All the while, it does remain an unadventurous melodrama with a paucity of insights.

Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for Punch Drunk Movies. He would love to see Burt Reynolds in another Paul Thomas Anderson movie but understands that it probably “ain’t gonna happen.”

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