Hot Take: The Danish Girl is a toxic movie. It makes the movie all about how Lili Elbe’s life and choices impact those around her, and it changes history to make that look worse. You don’t need me to tell you about this, especially if you’re trans; you don’t need me cisplaining a movie toxic to trans people to you. But beyond that, what struck me as I watched it in the theatre was that it was just bad. Even if it had been one hundred percent positive, even to the point of ahistoricality, it would have still been a bad movie because it just wasn’t made well.
I have noticed this as a recurring theme. It was true of Dallas Buyers Club. It’s true of Green Book. It’s true of any number of movies that espouse a toxic ideology. This isn’t just the cheap and easy shot at films like Fireproof and God’s Not Dead. Obviously, those are bad. But why, come to that? They’re made on decent budgets using professional actors, in many cases—oh, Kirk Cameron’s never been a good actor, but he had a successful career in mainstream productions before he went completely over the edge. You can’t blame everything on him, tempting though it may be.
It’s also not exactly a secret that you can get people to do any number of bad movies for a paycheck. We can all list, and we’d be here for days. It’s also true that people will phone in performances if they aren’t interested in the production but are getting paid for it, and we can list a ton of examples of that, too. What’s interesting, though, is that what we’re talking about here is movies that people believe in; I’ve named three that are actual Oscar winners, as messed up as that is. But you watch them, and you can’t imagine why. Because they are just . . . poorly made.
I was genuinely shocked by the Oscar wins for acting in Dallas Buyers Club and The Danish Girl, because I didn’t think that the acting in them was worthwhile. Oh, Alicia Vikander was at least better than Eddie Redmayne, I suppose, though she wasn’t given very much to do in the movie. But I was outraged that it won both male acting awards over the nominees from 12 Years a Slave, which granted has its toxic moments but does actually have its focus on oppressed people instead of straightwashing its bi lead. Either way, Chiwetel Ejiofor acted rings around the competition, and that’s not just my established dislike of Matthew McConaughey.
No, these movies are often badly filmed, badly acted—obviously badly written. The lack of quality goes in all directions, and it’s kind of amusing. It helps guarantee that, once the hype on them dies down, they’ll be forgotten, and their toxicity will go with them. When’s the last time you heard someone praising The Blind Side or The Help, a pair of white-savior narratives disguised as black empowerment stories? Some do worm their way into the canon, but most movies that are toxic by their era’s standards do seem to be badly made and to slip into either oblivion or camp amusement. At least it’s fun to mock them?