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Michael Musto

The Danish Girl: An Exquisite But Dullish Film

The Danish Girl: An Exquisite But Dullish Film

Danish Girl
Photo Courtesy Focus Features

Also: Cinematic nights out with Brad Pitt & Bradley Cooper

Clothes make the woman, apparently. In a French film called The New Girlfriend which opened earlier this year, Romain Duris played a widower who starts wearing his late wife's clothes out of some burning maternal need, eventually filling her role in larger ways before becoming a completely independent woman. Similarly, in The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne (as real-life 1920s Copenhagen painter Einar Wegener) squeezes into ballerina shoes and holds a dress against his body on the advice of his portraitist wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), only to find that the chiffon awakens something in his bones and soul. There were hints that Einar had different textures, as it were. Gerda admits that that the first time they pressed their lips together, "It was like kissing myself." Previously, when Einar was young, he playfully wore an apron, which led to some tomfoolery with a male friend, who kissed him, only to be told off and thrown out by Einar's dad.

And now, the floodgates are as open as Gerda's clothes closet. Einar starts dabbling in women's undergarments, and Gerda encourages him, though what starts as a game totally clicks, as Einar emerges into Lily, a shy but arresting female for Danish society to try and make sense of. There are setbacks in their relationship, but Gerda is still on Lili's side; just like in his Oscar winning The Theory of Everything last year, Redmayne has a loving wife slash nursemaid behind him, and though the going gets tough, this time the bond is tighter than a ballerina's corset, providing the emotional crux of the story.

At this point, the film's painterly cinematography and beautiful costumes provide a visual feast, and the slow, careful pace is interesting in an appropriately arty sort of way. The performances by Redmayne and Vikander are richly committed, and you admire the sensitive handling of the theme involving a trans woman coming into her own. (Redmayne, by the way, is as jolie laide in drag as Duris was; he's awkward but persuasive, an ugly duckling en route to swanhood.) But soon enough, the movie threatens to become suffocatingly tasteful, too afraid to offend anyone, and the direction by Tom Hooper starts to seem more lugubrious than studied.

At the same time, the screenplay by Lucinda Coxon based on David Ebershoff's book ends up wading into some banality ("Stop playing this game." "Look, there's a doctor...") as Lili strives to defy society's claims of perversion and medically correct a mistake in nature. Some details (like Gerda's bisexuality, plus some of the intricacies behind Lili's surgery) get shortchanged, and the rare funny line gets a huge laugh because it's set in a wasteland of brooding and suffering. But the early scenes have a kicky fascination to them, the film looks gorgeous, and overall, The Danish Girl gets an "A" for effort, if a far lower score for chutzpah. "At least there's no tragic twist," I mused, as the Oscar contender unfolded toward its climax. And then, naturally, there was a tragic twist. Thank God for Carol.

Brad Pitt in The Big Short

Brad Pitt in 'The Big Short'

Just Another Night Out With Brad Pitt

Having just had a Danish, I engorged myself with flank steak and pumpkin cheesecake at the lavish party at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street for The Big Short, the Adam McKay-directed/cowritten film set in the corruption-fueled economic bubble that led to the crash of '08. And I didn't take it for granted that I'm a lucky person who gets invited to sumptuous buffets.

After the screening, co-producer/co-star Brad Pitt reminded us that, at the height of the recession, we all saw images of "the families being put in the street...yet no one was ever held accountable. I'm still getting my arms around it. The experts have told you it could happen again." Pitt said bank execs may have convinced the government that jailing them would somehow undermine the bank bailout process going on at that time, and as a result, they were spared and not even spanked. The execs ended up rewarding themselves with yet more money and continued their crooked ways.

"It's Adam's voice and filter that make the movie the palatable feast that it is," added Pitt, while McKay countered that Brad's company, Plan B Entertainment, was admirably devoted to wanting to do this project justice. "They don't need to make Transformers 4," he said. "And by the way, nothing against Transformers 4. The third act is heartbreaking!" So is Steve Carell's hair in The Big Short: It's a streaked, flashy 'do that mirrors the real-life one for righteously cell-phone wielding hedge funder Mark Baum, whom he plays. "He isn't a particularly attractive man," related Carell, "but his wife told me the only reason she married him was because of his hair." And with that, I went and enjoyed that palatable feast. Oh, and for dessert, I briefly chatted with Finn Wittrock, the rising star who's in this film and on American Horror Story. He's a whole lotta Finn.

Big business and corruption also come up in David O. Russell's Joy, which was given a packed industry screening followed by a Q&A on Saturday night. At the event, Russell said this is the first time he's had a female protagonist, and he enjoyed following her through various decades all the way to success and the aftermath. "I think it's the first character we've done together who's not crazy," he said, grinning, to star Jennifer Lawrence, seated next to him. "QVC was a major part of my household," chimed in Bradley Cooper, which relates to the role he plays in Joy. (His mother even gave Russell some free consulting on the home shopping personalities seared into her mind.) And what's next for the award-winning Lawrence/Cooper duo? "He'll be a dog walker and I'll be a barista," laughed Lawrence. Interjected their costar, legendary RobertDeNiro, "She might play my mother."

In more concrete film news, Jeffrey Schwarz, who's done documentaries like I Am Divine (about the late, great drag star) and the current flick about movie heartthrob Tab Hunter, is currently filming a doc about caftan-wearing promoter/producer Alan Carr, whose works ranged from exultant smashes (Grease) to resounding flops (the Village People movie Can't Stop The Music). I should know because I'm in the Carr doc. Between this and the Divine movie, which I was also in, I'm becoming the expert on flashy-dressing plus-sized geniuses of the 1970s. And I'm fine with that!

What the World Needs Now?

Another icon from back in the day, Burt Bacharach, has returned, writing the songs for a new Off-Broadway play called New York Animals, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater (Spring Awakening). He deserves better. An eager cast wildly overacts through various NYC vignettes that threaten to make old Love, American Style episodes look like Arthur Miller by comparison. There are screaming confrontations, patronizing encounters, and other scenes that generally fail to amuse or shed significant light on Gotham's panoply of culture clashes. That's Act One. Then the second half starts with a scene between a frustrated straight woman and an aging gay guy that manages to find the quirky humor in alienation and loneliness. The tone does become more contemplative, but it isn't enough to make up for the urban blight before it. The best feature, unsurprisingly, is the lilting Bacharach music, expertly delivered by Jo Lampert and her fellow musicians, providing a sort of verbalized subconscious soundtrack to the piece. But for any serious theatergoer, walk on by...

At St. Luke's Theatre, Santasia, A Holiday Comedy is an intermissionless series of sketches by a group of spirited guys who play just about everything holiday-related, including a woman who goes on Jerry Springer to try to convince her husband that she's pregnant by immaculate conception. When hubby suggests that her story is pure hooey, she calmly responds, "Many will believe it." Also funny is a pre-taped spoof in which two elves get extra chummy as they seductively wrap gifts and make snow angels. "I know you're making toys!" screeches one of their suspicious wives. "You got paint on your fingers and you smell like glue!" The title of the piece? Brokeback Igloo. Now back to my danish, gurl.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Michael Musto