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'The Danish Girl' review: Eddie Redmayne in an important, but unengaging film

Alicia Vikander, left, as Gerda Wegener, and Eddie

Alicia Vikander, left, as Gerda Wegener, and Eddie Redmayne, as Lili Elbe, in Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl." Photo Credit: Focus Features

"The Danish Girl" is a worthwhile film in the sense that it is handsomely made, it concerns an important subject and the actors give the sort of first-rate, thoughtful performances that one expects from a movie of this pedigree.

The film tells the story of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), an acclaimed landscape painter and early recipient of male-to-female sexual reassignment surgery, and her relationship with wife Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), herself an accomplished artist.

It's directed by Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") with an eye for tender close-ups and period atmosphere -- the picture offers a vivid portrait of 1920s Copenhagen and Paris -- and there's a tenderness to Lili's relationship with Gerda that gets to something fundamental about the deep and spiritual nature of a meaningful marriage.

Some stories, however significant, simply don't make for the most engaging of movie subjects and Hooper struggles with that obstacle here.

Lili was a pioneer, an icon, indisputably brave for having the courage to live her life as her true self at a time when there was all-too-little appreciation for what that meant.

But the movie defines her exclusively by that journey and it doesn't offer a larger reason to be invested in her story. Her professional achievements weren't particularly notable; her bond with Gerda holds some fascination, mostly thanks to Vikander's skillful reflection of its agonizing complications, but it's not enough. Redmayne's performance is so ephemeral that Lili remains as much of a mystery at the end of the film as she was at the beginning.

You admire her on a larger level, and Hooper fills her story with moments of elemental pain and meaningful connection, imbuing the movie with the excitement of connecting with larger self truths and the despair of knowing the difficulty of fulfilling them. There's just something about her that remains forever outside the movie's grasp.

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