Opens locally Friday, January 27th, 2012 (check for showtimes)
Run Time: 1 hour 53 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Brendan Gleeson
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Passengers, Mother and Child)
Albert Nobbs will likely draw people to the theater based on the buzz of Oscar nominees Glenn Close and Janet McTeer, who both give terrific performances. Like many award-worthy performances are, these two are trapped within the confines of a mediocre movie, a strange and tedious tale of concealed identity.
The character Albert Nobbs, played by Glenn Close, is a waiter in 19th-century Ireland. Albert is actually a woman pretending to be a man in order to make ends meet. This is necessary for Albert because of the rough economic conditions in Ireland, and male waiters receive much more money than their female maid counter-parts. But that is not the extent of the plot.
There seems to have been a wide-range of movies with this hidden-gender theme, from the more dramatic Boys Don’t Cry, to the comedic Tootsie, to countless others in between. Albert Nobbs is a completely different take on the genre, showing us a person who is not just pretending to be someone else…she believes it. When Albert is done with her chores in the dining room of the fancy hotel in which she is employed, she returns to her chambers. One would think we would get a scene revealing her true feminine nature, but Albert is even Albert behind closed doors. When asked by someone who knows she is woman to reveal her “real name,” Albert looks confused, and simply repeats that her real name is Albert. This is not a woman pretending to be a man…it’s a woman who truly believes she is a man.
Glenn Close portrays Albert Nobbs as a shy and wounded fellow, with a look of discomfort and pure terror in her eyes at nearly all times. This cold and strange performance transforms the well-known actress and definitely qualifies her role as award-worthy. But it is so effective that it is off-putting. Nobbs has no idea what it means to be a man, or a woman for that matter, and thus is eerily unidentifiable as either.
We learn very little about what made this woman become Albert Nobbs. We do learn that she is secretly saving every penny to open a tobacco shop in town. Her dreams are expanded when she meets Sir Hubert Page. Page is forced to room with Albert one night, and learns of Nobbs true identity. Turns out that Page is also a female pretending to be a male, a practice that must have been common at the time. When Albert learns that Page is actually married to a woman, she was not even aware this was a possibility for her. She begins to dream of courting and marrying a young maid co-worker, Helen (played by Mia Wasikowska). Albert Nobbs is so sheltered and alone that she has no knowledge of what this even entails. She has a dream to own a shop and have a wife because to not have a dream would make her life completely meaningless.
Albert Nobbs is directed by Rodrigo Garcia, a veteran of the HBO drama In Treatment, where the entirety of each episode is shot in a psychiatrist’s office. In Treatment is an acquired taste, and so is Albert Nobbs. Character and performance reign supreme, but in In Treatment, we are at least prepared to lay down on the pyschiatrist’s couch…Albert Nobbs gives us no such preparation. The result then is a slow-moving film that invokes as much excitement as the vacant look in Albert Nobb’s eyes.
I must admit that I was interested in how things would turn out for Nobbs, but Albert Nobbs is not a film that everybody will be able to stand for too long. Janet McTeer was good in her role, but my expectations were much higher having heard the praise she has gained this past award-season. Glenn Close on the other hand, gives perhaps the most daring and raw performance of all of this year’s Oscar nominees.
I don’t expect her to win though. Albert Nobbs is an odd film that left me feeling cold, and although I respected the performance of Glenn Close, my mind grows uncomfortable when lingering on the character of Albert for too long. Other than feeling sympathetic towards Albert, what is this film trying to invoke?