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Close, but no cigar: Albert Nobbs 

Albert Nobbs (R)

Kimball's Peak Three

Albert Nobbs has for nearly three decades been Glenn Close's passion project — ironic, then, that it completely lacks passion.

Close stars as the titular character, a woman passing as a male waiter at an upscale hotel in 19th-century Dublin. Nobbs has been dressing as a man since she was 14; her current goal is to remain invisible among the occasionally raucous staff and guests until she can save enough money to buy her own tobacco shop.

Albert's supposed to be a fly on the wall, blending into the background so no one suspects her secret. But as portrayed by Close — unfathomably nominated for an Academy Award — the character is more accurately described by Helen (a saucy Mia Wasikowska), a fellow servant: "Sometimes I think you're soft in the head!"

More often than not, when Close's Albert is asked a question, she stares blankly. When hotel guests pass her by, she stares blankly. And when she's not staring blankly, she looks mildly startled.

Well, to be fair, there's a moment when Albert looks majorly startled: Her insular world is upended when she way-too-conveniently meets Hubert Page, a painter whom the hotel owner lets share Albert's room while completing a job. You see, Hubert is played by Janet McTeer. Yes, there are two cross-dressing women in this film, and they not only happen to meet, they're forced under the covers together.

When Hubert, having had enough of Albert's constant begging not to tell her boss, rips open her own shirt to reveal some unmistakable breasts, Albert just about passes out. Then it's back to being annoying, with Albert peppering the very assured and more believably masculine Hubert — McTeer is terrific, deserving of her own Oscar nomination — with questions.

If Albert's passivity doesn't infuriate you, the coincidence will. Overall, the film (directed by Rodrigo Garcia and co-written by Close and John Banville from a novella and off-Broadway play) is as stilted as the hotel's service, even when Albert tries to mimic Hubert's life and find love.

The object of her affection is Helen, and between the actors' age difference and Close's weird performance, their scenes together are mildly creepy and rather delusional. ("Should I tell her before we're married, or save it for our wedding night?" Albert asks herself.) Also, it's unclear whether Albert is actually a lesbian. When Hubert tells her, "You don't have to be anyone but who you are," it's not helpful, because if Albert knows the answer, the viewer never finds out.

That leaves any meaning behind the story a question mark. It is a tender moment when Hubert asks Albert for her real name and she still says, "Albert." And there's a sign of life when the pair go out in dresses and Albert ends up running on the beach. So who is Albert Nobbs and, more crucially, what's the point? The film doesn't bother justifying itself with sufficient context; there's a glint of the consequences of subsuming one's true identity, but it's not fleshed out enough for this It Gets Better world. And when a performer's big achievement is pulling off a short haircut, muffled voice, and men's clothes, offer her a Globe and be done with it.

scene@csindy.com

Film Details

Albert Nobbs
Rated R · 113 min. · 2011
Official Site: albertnobbs-themovie.com
Director: Rodrigo García
Writer: Glenn Close and John Banville
Cast: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Brendan Gleeson, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Janet McTeer, Brenda Fricker, Pauline Collins and Bronagh Gallagher

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