Glenn Close, John Banville, Gabriella Prekop (Short Story: George Moore)
Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson, Brenda Fricker, Mark Williams, Pauline Collins, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maria Doyle Kennedy
R for some sexuality, brief nudity and language
There is nothing unconventional about Albert Nobbs despite two central characters who are women pretending to be men.
In late 19th Century London, Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a quietly reserved butler at a popular, but financially distressed hotel who is looking to save enough money to open little tobacco shop of his (her) own, giving him (her) an opportunity to finally be himself (herself), a woman. Hiding himself (herself) in the robes of a man gives Albert the security he (she) needs to function in life after a solitary life with no family of which to speak. He (She) almost has the money he (she) needs, but it isn’t until he’s (she’s) forced to share a room with a temporary employee that he (she) discovers he (she) can have everything he (she) wants without sacrificing himself (herself).
Hubert (Janet McTeer) is just like Albert, but has the one thing he (she) has always wanted: a relationship with a woman. Now that he’s (she’s) seen a life he (she) never thought could be his (hers), he (she) focuses his (her) energy not just on securing his (her) own future, but that of the lasting love of a chambermaid at the hotel. Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) has beauty and sensitivity, but doesn’t see in Albert a potential mate. She favors a different new hire, Joe Macken (Aaron Johnson) who encourages her to befriend the hopelessly enamored Albert and bilk him (her) of his (her) money so they may run away to America where Helen has always dreamed of escaping.
Glenn Close may give one of her greatest performances in Albert Nobbs, the story of a neglected woman posing as a man to find work and save up to buy a little shop he (she) has his (her) eye on. Close’s Nobbs conveys a strong nobility while performing his (her) duty that crumbles away as he’s (she’s) exposed to the threat of discovery by a short term boarder in his (her) third-floor bedroom. Janet McTeer, who plays this invasive pest Hubert shares the same secret, something we guess early on in their relationship, and perhaps its Albert’s sobbing pleas to Hubert one late night that enable him (her) to reveal his (her) own secrets that gives the film its emotional weight.
Indeed, McTeer is every bit as fine as Close, both of whom giving the kind of heartfelt performances that would fit well in better films. The story is stretched beyond credibility in spite of Close’s best efforts. As Albert discovers he (she) can wed a woman to find legitimacy and happiness, a perspective gained through his (her) friendship with Hubert, his (her) dream begins building. It’s the young parlor maid Helen (Mia Wasikowska) that gives him (her) the hope he (she) needs, but it is she who will ultimately bring him (her) down. She is in love with the cantankerous boiler operator Joe (Aaron Johnson) who promises they will flee to America where they can live in peace if she can persuade Albert to give freely of his (her) stored wealth to her.
There are a handful of subplots that weave through the story, setting up tragedy and heartache as Albert Nobbs drifts into melancholy. Although its titular protagonist has hope and forward vision, the events around him (her) prevent any measure of future happiness. It’s a bleak story with only a glimmer of happiness. Sentimentality overloads much of the film and were it not for Close and McTeer, the film would crumble in its own conventional nature.
Guarantees: Original Song (“Lay Your Head Down”)
Probables: Actress (Glenn Close), Supporting Actress (Janet McTeer), Makeup
Potentials: Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design
Unlikelies: Picture, Original Score, Editing
November 30, 2011