Movie review of “The Danish Girl”: A visually lovely but emotionally distant tale about a transgender pioneer starring Eddie Redmayne. 2.5 stars out of 4.

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Eddie Redmayne’s performance in “The Danish Girl” feels like it’s in soft focus; like the movie, it’s gentle and blurry and not quite there. The story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (Redmayne) is both timely and fascinating: As the film begins, we meet Einar Wegener, a successful landscape painter in 1920s Copenhagen who lives with his artist wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander). The two are happily in love — but Einar soon undergoes a transformation, realizing that he is meant to be a she, against the backdrop of a world that doesn’t yet understand.

“The Danish Girl” is based on a novel that was inspired by the real Lili’s diaries and letters, and perhaps that’s part of the problem. It seems two steps removed from real life. Director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) fills the screen with beauty: the gossamer tulle of a ballerina’s skirt; the soft, pale-blue light in the Wegeners’ impeccably art-directed apartment; the textured silks and velvets of the women’s flowing ’20s clothing; the high ceilings and detailed interiors of the film’s parade of lovely rooms.

Within those rooms, Redmayne and Vikander seem to be acting out two very different stories. In the early scenes, Einar is a self-conscious, awkward and oddly childlike character. You wonder what the extraordinarily self-possessed Gerda, whom Vikander invests with a vibrant playfulness, sees in her husband. But the performance doesn’t change much as Einar becomes Lili — if anything, Redmayne becomes even more opaque. We don’t understand the glassy-eyed Lili any more than we understood Einar. We only know that she is lovely.

Movie Review ★★½  

‘The Danish Girl,’ with Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts. Directed by Tom Hooper, from a screenplay by Lucinda Coxon, based on the book by David Ebershoff. 120 minutes. Rated R for some sexuality and full nudity. Lincoln Square, Egyptian.

As is the movie, to look at, but only Vikander’s performance elevates it above its pretty surface. Her Gerda tells us a story of a woman desperately in love with a man who’s vanished, but whose eyes still gaze at her. “The Danish Girl,” through the force of that performance, becomes more Gerda’s story than Lili’s — that’s both its strength and its weakness.