Albert Nobbs Reviews
Her character's name is Albert Nobbs. It's late 19th-century Dublin, and he lives and works as a waiter in a small, friendly hotel. McTeer plays a "man" who briefly works at the hotel repainting rooms. When they strike up a friendship, each is shocked to learn that the other is a woman. They grow to love and encourage each other in a beautiful way.
A young maid (played by Mia Wasikowska) captures Albert's heart, which is something that appears never to have happened for him. He struggles to figure out how to date and whether to tell the maid about his gender condition.
But the maid is really interested in a handsome, self-absorbed young man (played well by Aaron Johnson from 'Kick-Ass') who also lives and works at the hotel. When the maid ends up pregnant, life at the hotel comes apart, ending in a life-changing spell of violence.
'Albert Nobbs' is a wonderful little film. Once or twice it gets a bit schmaltzy. Director Rodrigo Garcia (best known for his work on the HBO show 'In Treatment') is at heart a television writer/director. That's his medium. All his films (including 2009's 'Mother and Child') have a TV feel. But 'Albert Nobbs' shows that Garcia is getting more comfortable with film. This is by far his best film yet.
Incidentally, Garcia is the son of legendary novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The film's story is compelling, Albert is a fascinating character and I myself was drawn to her tale throughout. Unfortunately, ''Albert Nobbs'' isn't a singular character study of Albert. It tries to be a multiple character study, exploring simply uninteresting characters that make certain scenes drag. There are also some tonal issues, with a few scenes proving very out of place.
''Albert Nobbs'' looks great. The make up is terrific, the cinematography, the costumes etc. all make the 19th Century setting convincing. It's good, not great though, but Glenn Close, she is magnificent.
So, what do you do with a movie like "Albert Nobbs?" It is a nice enough movie about dreams, even if it is kind of slow. Even worse, it also suffers from a terminal lack of ambition, as it cannot even be bothered to tackle sexual ignorance in Victorian Dublin. Look, I am not asking for a steampunk adventure involving a six foot tall female lizard and her maid(at least, not here) but anything more significant than the usual life of quiet desperation would have been neat. In fact, there were times when I had serious doubts about Albert Nobbs being the central character, as Hubert definitely seems to have the more interesting life. Part of which might have to do with Glenn Close being overshadowed by the rest of the cast, especially Janet McTeer who is simply tremendous.
So it was a bit of a chore to get me to sit down to watch ALBERT NOBBS, a 30 year passion project for Glenn Close about a woman who poses as a male butler in 19th Century Ireland in order to survive. Suspending one's disbelief is crucial here (as it was in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and VICTOR/VICTORIA) because Close isn't credible as a man for a single second. That's not to say her performance isn't good, because I actually think she's great here. Muted, almost invisible, and with a palpable, hugely sympathetic fear of being discovered, Close is a case study in arrested development and survival instincts. Much like Chauncy Gardener in BEING THERE, Nobbs is a character who has put on a mask for so long, that she doesn't truly know how to interact in the real world. Think of it as the non-Jewish version of what Barbara Streisand did years ago. I call it GENTL.
Visually, Nobbs disappears into the wallpaper, allowing a strong supporting cast to shine. Beloved for her Oscar-nominated turn in SHIRLEY VALENTINE, Pauline Collins is great as the pretentious, strict yet flirtatious manager of the Morrison Hotel, where many of the guests and workers have their share of secrets. It's not just Nobbs who is hiding something. Virtually everyone else is too. From the new painter, brilliantly played by Janet McTeer, to a quartet of guests, led by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who aren't the straight pair of couples they at first appear. Bronagh Gallagher is wonderful as a person very important to McTeer's character, proving that you can make an indelible performance out of a couple of scenes.
Without giving too much away, I was really surprised by the sadness of this film. A story of missed opportunities, hiding, lost loves, betrayal, and the harsh reality under which women had to live, ALBERT NOBBS, touched me way more than I expected. Despite plot contrivances one could spot a mile (or a meter) away, I was moved. McTeer is particularly vivid as a woman who boldly seizes her moments in life instead of waiting for something that may never come. One of the best scenes in the film is when she and Nobbs change their appearances and run on the beach. Ironically, and a bit hilariously dressed as traditional women, the whiff of freedom they experience is palpable and simultaneously ironic. There's a very smart film here hidden underneath some Masterpiece Theatre-style trappings. I understand why it was Close's burning desire to get it to the screen, not so much for her scenery-chewing role (which it is not), but for the tribute it pays to women in our distant past.
His name is Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close). He is a waiter at a fancy hotel in Ireland. He is polite, doesn't talk much or at all other than when he is properly addressed - and other times finds company in himself when alone, and is genuinely well-liked for both these reasons and more. But the truth is that he is not a "he" at all. Albert is a woman dressed as a man in order to achieve the sort of employment that she has upheld for all these years. In 19th Century Ireland, women did not work. They could not work. Yet the physical implications of the action that is "work" run in Albert's veins. She dreams of opening a little tobacco shop in town; and hopefully by then, she will also be able to settle down with a wife at her side. But this is not easy. Albert must hide not only her gender but also her sexual orientation. She is, at heart, a lesbian; and society will not have such people walking amongst those who are deemed "straight". But...once a man, always a man; and the world must not know of the truth.
And indeed they do not. Everyone - from the hotel owner Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins) and the doctor (Brendan Gleeson) to the maids - is oblivious to Albert's identity. They believe she is a man. In today's world, she would hardly pass as one. But this was some time ago. We have to understand that her act was convincing enough for the people of the 19th Century. Albert's quiet and dangerous existence is shaken by the arrival of a painter to the hotel, a Mr. Hubert Page (Janet McTeer). Albert agrees to let this man share her bed, and on the first night; she incidentally lets the cat out of the bag. Hubert is surprisingly accepting of her secret and agrees to keep it just that. There is a reason behind this, but this is a film of pleasant surprises and to reveal the cause would only spoil a significant one (out of many more to come). After all...this is a film about Albert, among others.
The film is on one side compelling and on another uneven. Albert's story is a sad one treated in an almost spectacularly un-melancholic way; although I though the tone suited the film just fine. Without an overbearing sadness to it, the film will probably fare better with a wider audience than it would have otherwise. However, at the same time, it could have greatly benefited from a deeper character study. But as it is, it's still a pretty damn good one. So here's my problem: Albert's tale is consistently being interrupted by another crucial character, a maid named Helen (Mia Wasikowska), whose own story seeks to intertwine with Albert's, with mixed results. Helen is trying to figure out a life for herself and her new boyfriend, a working boy named Joe (Aaron Johnson), although his very own character flaws are seemingly invisible to her.
In a sense, Albert opens her mind to these flaws. Together, they form somewhat of an interesting friendship; not quite a romance because Albert doesn't seem overly interested in the girl romantically and would rather court someone a little older, but also something more than a simple friendship. The characters grow alongside each-other and also when they are separated. Again, it's not a "love" thing; but Helen wants money and free-bees from Albert and Albert wants companionship and life lessons from Helen. Like a true dreamer, she isn't about to let hers go so easily; but the times have not been particularly kind to her, and she must re-adapt to this world.
Rodrigo Garcia, once again working with the star (Close), directs with much passion and finesse. That's what I expect from a good period piece; and so that is what I got. But then again, there's this feeling of difference; an aspect of "Albert Nobbs" that separates it from most period pieces of today. Perhaps it's the fact that while most seem to be begging the viewer to regard them as old fashioned (cinematically speaking), this one effortlessly earns our trust from the very beginning. It isn't old fashioned, really, yet it also isn't new age stuff. It's in a category of its own, and that's what makes it so good. Garcia makes each frame his own; the cinematography is definitely a stand-out here. It draws the distinction between a good - but flawed - period drama and a boring - but flawed - one. There's a lot to praise here. The performances are all wonderful, and Close probably deserved to win that Oscar since this is one of her best roles, but everyone gets immersed in their character and does their best. And this would be a perfect time to mention Matthew W. Mungle's fantastic and utterly convincing make-up. McTeer and Close both got nominations from the Academy, although ultimately the film walked away with nothing. I can't say what it deserves and what it doesn't; although if I had to guess, it certainly deserves to be seen.
In one scene, Albert visits the home of Hubert and his wife and looks back on her personal history. There's the lingering question: "Why did she want to be a man?" and also "Why did she live such a strange and harsh life?" Her past explains this. It would seem *spoiler alert* a bad run-in with a gang of rapists *end spoiler* did the trick. The film is about many things. Identity; judgment; redemption; trust; secrecy; and being your own man (or woman, as the case may be). Nevertheless, it's also about sexuality; minus the sex. Take that as you will, because this fancy film serves it up on a silver platter. It's presentable, pleasant enough (for a film of such a depressing premise), and completely engaging from beginning to end. In the summer of 2011 I met Close personally, after she had just finished this film. As a writer, producer, and star; it was a labor of love, and you could see it reflected on her face. Perhaps that's why I won the ring-toss game that day.
When you hear about a film that centers on an older woman dress as a male waiter in 19th century Ireland, you're thinking that this is going to be one wacky ride, until you hear that it's a drama and think about what you had for breakfast before you think about what's going on in the film. Well, you don't have a lot to worry about, because there's not too much going on in the film to pay attention to in the first place. Seriously though, the film does drift along its hardly eventful and occasionally repetative storyline quietly and steadily with long periods of just "nothing", making disengagement a very real and fair frequent possibility. Well, as you would expect from hearing about a drama of this type, slowness plagues this storyline. Of course, that's not the only thing that taints this film's potential, as the film is also plagued with melodrama, not a bit of which is too terribly manipulative, but things do get a touch cheesy, particularly towards the end. However, even then, the film doesn't break, because no matter how slow or somewhat messy the film is, it is more than saved by one, single factor: ...The fact that I'm a critic and this is an arty film, so of course I have to love it. No, I kid, but even I wasn't, I picked the wrong film to be snobby about, because this thing seems to be an exception to that steretype that critics like all arty film, because this puppy got mixed review, much like many other Oscar push films of 2011, but just like those other films, this little number still has enough strength behind to make it ultimately enjoyable to me.
If nothing else keeps this film from being totally unengaging, then the production will certainly catch your eye, with makeup and sets really making the era, as well as the illusions set by some of our character, almost vividly believable, and it's all complimented by cinematography that's not extremely commendable, but has plenty of glowing moments that really breathe life into this world. Of course, if I could just cut to the chase, the real powers behind the film that really sell everything to you are the performers, especially our certain "female" leads. As much as I joke about Janet McTear being hardly known, she is a name that you really should take note of, because although she is upstaged by the more recognizable (to a degree) Glenn Close, McTear is all but upstaged by Close "only" because she's rather underused, but every time she does grace the screen, she brings a strong charm and presence that's so transformative and really sells you on her secret, and it certainly helps that who ever says that the makeup isn't terribly convincing on her is speaking some bull, because the disguise on her is almost more convincing than Close's. However, that's not to say that Glenn Close isn't convincing in her disguise, and "that" is not to say that the makeup is the only thing that sells the Albert Nobbs disguise, because Glenn Close gives a performance that's not only transformatively convincing, but genuinely excellent outside of the disguise aspect, as she has such a subtely emotional aura of compellingness that really absorbs you and gives you a genuine sense of tension that, at any moment, she'll slip up, blow her cover and have to deal with Aaron Johnson fiending after her, because we all know how ol' Curly Q here digs the older girls. Well, when his alternative is Mia Wasikowska, I think that even he's got to surrender to his own age ran. ...Oh wait, he's 21 and she's 22, so I guess there really is no stopping a cougar hunter. No, but seriously though, Close leads this film, as well as the challenge it presents, seemingly effortlessly, and watching her deliver one of the best performances of 2011, as far as women "and" actors go, is the key strength that makes this film worth watching.
When it's all said and done, the film is slowed down by a rather dull tone - complete with a lack of eventfulness, some repetion and moments of simply nothing going on - and the moments of melodrama aren't helping, but what picks things up and makes the film enjoyable is the lush production, but most of all, the strong performances, particularly that of Glenn Close, who's deliverance of such a powerful, transformative and often emotional performance that's worthy of making the shortlist of best female performances of the year leaves "Albert Nobbs" a quite respectable portrait on what a woman living in a man's world [b]"really"[/b] looks like.
3/5 - Good