The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Can a movie be impeccably made—well-cast and strongly acted, flawlessly appointed and gorgeously shot—yet still leave you cold? Can it do everything right technically without touching you emotionally? Can it offer a transporting experience without changing you one bit? Such is the conundrum with “The Danish Girl.”
Given that he’s telling the story of real-life artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne)—the first-known person to undergo sexual reassignment surgery nearly a century ago when he transformed himself into Lili Elbe—director Tom Hooper plays it dismayingly safe. As was the case with his Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” and “Les Miserables,” Hooper’s latest is tasteful and restrained to a fault. It is easier to admire than love. And maybe that’s intentional to some extent. Maybe—in adapting Lucinda Coxon’s script, based on David Ebershoff’s novel about the 1920s Danish landscape painter—Hooper aims to reach the widest possible audience by presenting such potentially challenging material in the form of a lush prestige picture.
Maybe the thinking is that the vast majority of people would be more likely to see a movie about a transgender character if it were offered as awards bait, to use a phrase that’s pejorative but apt, rather than a scrappy little indie like “Tangerine.” Between both of these movies—and the award-winning television series ‘Transparent,” and the well-documented saga of Caitlyn Jenner—the struggles transgender people have endured have been part of the consciousness and dialogue this past year like never before. “The Danish Girl” may seem zeitgeisty through sheer timing—and that may seem cynical on the surface—but it’s clear that its heart is in the right place.
But speaking of the heart, “The Danish Girl” is more likely to appeal to the head. Admittedly, there’s some striking imagery that will surely grab you: tutus hanging backstage at the ballet, illuminated from below like tulle jellyfish, or the crisp symmetry of immaculate, identical row houses, shot in widescreen. During a rare daring moment, Einar visits a peep show to mimic the stripper’s moves, and the two end up in a spontaneous sort of dance through the glass. But there are also plenty of images that are rather obvious and simplistic in their symbolism: a sheer sheet hanging between Einar and his wife Gerda (Alicia Viklander) at bedtime, providing a physical separation, or a scarf blowing away in the wind as Alexandre Desplat’s score soars with it.