This fictitious (not ‘true’ as the poster states) love story from Director Tom Hooper loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener is out in the cinemas now. The story follows how Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lilli’s ground-breaking journey as a transgender pioneer, or so the trailer would have you believe.
Director Hooper hammers home, time and time again how gender is all a performance and there’s a few sophisticated moments when this is made explicit, often it’s less subtle than that and I know it’s a serious film with a good heart, but it’s also a glossy pile of nonsense that made me ache for some new facial expressions from Alicia Vikander’s (who did the best she could with such thin material) portrait of bleak Nordic landscape painter Wegener and a smidge of decent acting from Redmayne’s; honestly it made Carrie Fisher’s performance in Star Wars look good.
The film looks lush, in a F. Scott 1920’s way, all soft glossy lighting, smooth flawless costumes and the period is touch perfect. It’s a lovely slick thing to watch, but with all the edges, comers, bumps and anything that might cause much more than a light gasp removed, which leaves a hollow mess and takes the utterly compelling life and historical importance of Lili who lived her life as Lili Ilse Elvenes and Gerda Wegener and moulds them into sub Downtown Abby galls.
I left feeling disappointed that the astonishing struggles of Elbe and the very real accomplishments in her life are of no interest and certainly not included in this film. Eddie Redmayne’s performance is arch, irritating and occasionally feels like a carry on film and I wondered aloud to my companion if this was because we was queers or if it was that fey. It was. Both.
It’s nice to see a mainline film deal with Trans life so effortlessly, but it would be nice to see some decent and real Trans folk recognised for who they are rather than their transition and a Trans actor given the role rather than Eton educated tremendously white male privileged Redmayne, but perhaps that’s just me thinking those thoughts out loud. Lili was a real pioneer and the film fails to really acknowledge this, her death at the results of experimental surgeries was shocking and a devastation to those around her, this film fails to acknowledge the ground breaking truth of Lili’s life.
The representation of Trans folk is coming along leaps and bounds in the media and this film is a side step into costume drama, but without the drama. This lush, pretty, film is beautiful to watch and yet left me feeling like I had learned nothing of Lili, her life, her loves, her struggles, her very being, in fact nothing, other than she liked to pout, paint and wear some rather stunning frocks.
Art imitates life which imitates art, and so around we go again….
A missed opportunity, but perfect if you’ve got a hangover.
Out in selected cinema’s now.
For more info you can see the film’s website here.