After his harrowing portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne solidified his place in Hollywood with an Academy Award. It would seem that Eddie has a real talent for transforming himself into someone completely different right before our eyes. I think he has the potential to — someday — be on the same level as Christoph Waltz, Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s not just makeup and costumes, it’s Redmayne’s ability to become something else entirely.
The zeal with which he brought Hawking to life showcased his abilities far more than his transformation into one of the first transgender women in history. I don’t blame Redmayne for this, though. I blame director Tom Hooper. His heart was in the right place and I absolutely understand what he was trying to do, but the film was chock full of the same scene over and over and over again: Eddie practicing standing like a lady in a mirror, Eddie posing a little too enthusiastically in a dress for his on-screen painter wife, Eddie at a party being dainty, Eddie staring blankly across the room whilst stroking his neck the way a gal might. We get it! He wants to be a woman! Thanks, movie!
I’m not trying to be insensitive. I want to make that clear up front. Anyone going through a transition of that caliber has a lot to consider. But the man has a gift for his craft! Let him do it! I felt the whole time like Tom Hooper was behind the camera saying, “Okay, Ed, now do like me,” and then flailing his hands about flamboyantly. And Eddie took that and did what he could. Tom Hooper is a bit of a hit or miss for me. King’s Speech and Les Mis were obvious winners. Les Mis less so, but they can’t all be box office hits, can they? M. Night proved that earlier this year with his massive success, The Visit, after a string of real stinkers. It happens, Tom. It happens.
Before I get too much farther into this, I should really discuss the story a bit more. I’m thisclose to going off on a tangent.
Einar Wegener (Redmayne) was a renowned painter in 1920s Copenhagen. He was married to Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). An artist herself, Gerda admired the work of her husband, wishing that her own could be so widely recognized and, well, sell. When Gerda needs to finish a painting in a hurry, she asks the only model available to her — Einar — to sit for her. The painting is a woman in a beautiful dress and fancy shoes. Einar is happy to oblige. Though there is some objection to the dress, he’s a good sport. And then something — as Einar puts it — changed.
This is when we meet Lili. Lili starts out as a fun game that Einar and Gerda play. Dressing him up, putting on a bit of eyeliner and some rouge, and even practicing walking in heels. When Lili accompanies Gerda to a party, things go too far and shit goes sideways in a hurry.
Gerda, very selflessly, stands by Einar’s side and Lili’s. Even seeking out Einar’s childhood friend Hans, played by an incredibly dapper and charming Matthias Schoenaerts. Together, Hans and Gerda provide support for Einar when the rest of the world would call him a loon.
I feel like this story could have been told more effectively. I guess I don’t like how egocentric Einar/Lili is. Considering what he was trying to accomplish, don’t you kind of have to be inside your own head a lot? I’m so conflicted. Someone with such an acute sense of self might be that absorbed in their own thoughts and feelings and completely disregard the needs of those around them, but I just didn’t care for it. Quite frankly, I was annoyed more than anything.
Let’s get down to brass tacks, here. This story isn’t about Einar or Lili. Or Hans. Or Amber Heard’s sorta crappy accent. This is Gerda’s story. By a long shot. I think all of my irritation comes from her resolve to standby and watch her marriage fall apart. Then I think about what I would do given the same situation and it becomes so clear that this woman was just better than me in every way. Luckily, I’m just in a dark theater, shoveling Tootsie Rolls into my face and I don’t actually have to worry about any of it.
Come to think of it, Hawking was portrayed as quite selfish as well. But he’s a goddamn genius. Lili just quits painting and gets a job at the mall. Both roles were kind of annoying jerks. Then Eddie flashes that million dollar smile and I forget everything.
Eddie, if you read this, it’s not your fault and I still adore you. You keep doin’ you. Tom, if you read this, we’ll get ’em next time, buddy.