Albert Nobbs

3 Jan

Title: Albert Nobbs
Year: 2011
Director: Rodrigo García
Writers: Glenn Close and John Banville, based on a short story by George Moore
Starring: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Janet McTeer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Brendan Gleeson, Maria Doyle Kennedy
MPAA Rating: R, some sexuality, brief nudity and language
Runtime: 113 min
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Metacritic: 53


When the year started and people were predicting who would be the main players for the big Oscar races, the Best Actress trophy seemed to be boiling down to a heated battle between Meryl Steep for The Iron Lady and Glenn Close for this film; one is the best actress to have ever lived and who, while a two-time-winner, hasn’t won an Oscar since 1983, and should get one for this role in a prestige biopic backed by Harvey Weinstein (though I haven’t seen the actual film yet), and the other is an incredibly talented veteran who has 5 nominations to her name but no wins and is considered to be due, and was now back on a project she spent fifteen years trying to get made after she first played the role on a stage production in the early eighties.

Nowadays, however, while Ms. Streep seems to still be considered the front-runner, or at the very least in a heated deadlock with Viola Davis for The Help, it seems as though Glenn Close will have to make do with just her sixth nomination as she’ll probably be just the fifth name on anyone’s ballots below Ms. Streep, Ms. Davis, Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) and Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), and left to battle it up with Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and maybe Charlize Theron (Young Adult) for the fifth slot. But alas, we must talk about the actual film here, I was just saying that because what I wanted to say is that Albert Nobbs lost some steam heading into the home stretch. And having seen it, I concur with that general consensus; this is a good film, and this is a great performance by Ms. Close, but it’s nothing terribly special.

It’s set in the 19th century Ireland, where a woman is forced to live her entire life as a man in order to make it in that environment, but after decades of living under said facade, in comes a love story that will shake things up. And it’s obviously a very complex piece, but for all the layers that are so obviously there I just felt many of them were left untouched, the film feeling unfinished in that respect. That’s my main problem with Albert Nobbs, it raises all of these really interesting questions, it’s obviously meant to be super thought-provoking, and yet so many questions are just left unanswered here that I can’t really love it at all, which is why the film never once approaches greatness, no matter how incredible Glenn Close is in it, or Janet McTeer too, who at this point is probably just as safe a bet as Glenn Close to get an Oscar nomination.

Still, it’s obviously engrossing enough to make for a good couple of hours at the movies, because it’s interesting to see this woman who had to pass as a man to be employed as a butler in a Dublin hotel just to get by in life, to survive. There’s obviously something odd about Albert, which at times may get you thinking that surely people must have known something was up with him; but anyways, you have this elvish little man, super polite, always going about his business with just the utmost care. This really wouldn’t have worked at all probably had Glenn Close not been in this role. She’s amazing, such an intelligence in this role, showing so much range as well as restraint, a role for which she won an Obie nearly three whole decades ago and that she tackles now with a new sense of energy that’s just bedazzling to watch.

Albert is kind of invisible though, living a closeted kind of life, just observing around him, and yet in the way Ms. Close plays him it’s the little things that really get to you, how Albert seems to be living in a parody of what it’s like to be a man, and it’s enchanting and sad all at the same time. Stuff goes on around Albert’s life that starts shaping up the movie, aristocrats led by Jonathan Rhys Meyers go the hotel, little subplots revolving around the rest of the hotel staff are also there, chief amongst them what happens with Helen, a maid played by Mia Wasikowska, an actress I love, who’s wooed by a man named Joe, played by Aaron Johnson and who, as it so happens, also becomes the object of Albert’s affection.

Asking Helen out for a walk, actually conversing with her and trying to be seen instead of just disappearing like he usually does goes against what Albert’s usually all about, but he does so under the advice of Hubert, another woman in disguise who becomes Albert’s mentor in this life, a fellow soul who disguised herself as a male in order to escape the existence of women who were many times subjected to violence from men. Hubert however, much unlike Albert, made a life for himself, has a wife, and is confident in himself even though he’s actually a woman. He’s the one that inspires Albert to go after Helen, and he’s the man played so well by Janet McTeer, giving a really kind of exhuberant performance that works wonders in this film and makes the scenes between Hubert and Albert the parts of the films that really hold up nicely.

This is a nice enough film, it’s carefully directed by Rodrigo García who in 2010’s Mother and Child (which I gave an A- to) showed he had a really nice touch in how to view women, and it’s his sincere approach that gets this one all nice and ready for us to consume, except I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t have loved to see how this film would have looked like if the melodrama was amped up. I don’t know, Albert Nobbs just didn’t fully do it for me, I loved the performances by Ms. Close and Ms. McTeer, but as a whole it just wasn’t incredible; just plain good and nice but with some complications, much like Albert himself.

Grade: B


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