Wednesday 26 October 2016

Cinema: The Danish Girl - an Oscar-baiting period drama

The Danish Girl Cert: 15A

Hilary A White and Aine O'Connor

Published 04/01/2016 | 02:30

Gender issue: Eddie Redmayne, left, and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl
Gender issue: Eddie Redmayne, left, and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl
Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro in Joy

Reviewed this week are The Danish Girl and Joy.

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Fine an actor as Eddie Redmayne is (he bagged the Oscar for Best Actor last Spring for his body-warping turn in The Theory of Everything), there are only so many times that one can look at the plummy  English thesp fluttering his eyelids and smiling bashfully.

In The Danish Girl, an aggressively Oscar-baiting period drama from Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables), there is a good two hours of this to contend with. Hooper puts the spotlight on Redmayne's transformative abilities and leaves it there, as if to say: "Resist this, you judges, I dare you."

It turns out to be to the film's detriment. Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, a Danish master who in 1930 surgically transformed his gender after some time spent in corporeal turmoil. Opposite him (and arguably stealing the show) is Alicia Vikander as wife and fellow artist Gerda. Her love also undergoes a transformation into a touching unconditional advocacy as her sexual partner dissolves before her eyes. Ben Wishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts inevitably turn up as generic romantic suitors with a sideline in cheer-leading duties.

This reconfiguring of Einar and Gerda's relationship is the most adhesive feature in this adaptation of David Ebershoff's historical novel. Production-wise, it is splendid, but every second in Hooper's film is arranged like a Vanity Fair shoot, with Redmayne pouting away centre-frame in drag. Indeed, so overwrought are some moments that you may struggle to keep a straight face amid all the hamming and political worthiness. 3 stars


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Cert 12A

European audiences will be less familiar than American ones with the story on which David O. Russell's latest Jennifer Lawrence fest is based. This fictionalised account of the life of Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop and became a home-shopping channel sensation, is classic Russell territory. There is a dysfunctional family, adversity, humour and his most recent favourite cast, Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, but this doesn't work as well as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.

In smalltown America in the 1980s Joy (Lawrence) lives with her soap opera addict mother (Virginia Madsen), her supportive granny (Diane Ladd) and two small children. In her basement lives her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) who is soon joined by her father (De Niro) following the failure of yet another marriage. Joy supports everyone, financially and emotionally, proving herself too capable and nearly collapsing under the strain. All her childhood dreams have fallen away until one day she rekindles her inventor spirit with a radical new mop.

Her father's newest girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini) provides some of the funding but still it proves difficult to make the dream come true, even after she meets Neil Walker (Cooper), who runs the brand new shopping channel QVC. There is interesting stuff here and Lawrence is her usual reliable, appealing self giving Joy, both character and movie, emotional depth. But the film has a strange tone and feels like it might have benefited from script revision. Her father and half sister (Elisabeth Rohm) are one-note horrible but this is really just used for comedy rather than adversity. It is dealt with too easily and could have been taken to new levels. But it's a good story, very watchable and often funny. 3 stars


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