Turn off the Lights

Oscar Nominee Review: Albert Nobbs

It took Glenn Close almost two decades to get Albert Nobbs to the big screen, and for such an enormous talent to dedicate so much heart and soul to something, viewers have a right to expect something truly special, no? Go in with that mindset, however, and you'll certainly be disappointed. Those who can appreciate the film—both the good and the bad—for what it is, will be in for something quite rewarding. Too often, Albert Nobbs falls into melodramatic traps, yet two stellar (and Oscar-nominated) performances from Close and Janet McTeer light up the screen in such a way that one can't help but recommend the film. Close plays the titular character, a hotel waiter in late-19th Century Ireland. Yes, that's "waiter," not "waitress." Close plays a woman leading the life of a man. With no family, money, or real skills to fall back on, Albert decides his best chance to get ahead in life is as a man. No one he knows seems to think twice about his gender, with the exception of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a painter who discovers Albert's secret when staying in his room one night. Hubert, however, has something in common with Albert—he too is leading the life of a man, albeit for different reasons. Hubert's story gives Albert hope. If he can lead a happy life and get married, so can Albert. So he sets his sights on the prettiest hotel maid, Helen (Mia Wasikowska), and decides he'll spend all the money he's saved on a storefront where he can sell tobacco. The only thing standing in his way is Helen's relationship with another hotel worker, the much younger and more passionate Joe (Aaron Johnson). Albert is a very tragic character. We sympathize with him because he so quietly goes about his business. Yet it's always in the back of our mind that his dreams can't and won't become a reality—at least not in the perfect way he envisions them. Part of that has to do with Helen, one of the most vain women on film in some time. But it also has to do with Albert himself. One gets the sense he's incapable of truly fighting for what he wants, and after Helen steps all over him the first, second, third time, it becomes clear the ending to this story probably won't be a happy one. When the film focuses on Albert and Hubert, it's quite successful. The politics of gender are generally glossed over. The appeal, instead, is on a more human level. Hubert, in particular, is a very vivid character. Seeing him come down a few pegs from his usual confident self late in the film is quite moving. I just wish we got more of him and less of Helen and Joe. Wasikowska and Johnson give subpar performances, and their melodramatic, on-again-off-again romance just distracts and pads the film's running time. It's hard to argue that Close isn't deserving of her Oscar nod. She might not be the most convincing man, but she's a very convincing transgender. She has all the mannerisms down. What doesn't always work in her favor, however, is the screenplay, which is full of some clunky pieces of dialogue. I've already extolled the virtues of McTeer's work (she, too, is very deserving of her nomination). The other great piece in the acting trifecta here is Brendan Gleeson (coming off a sensational turn in The Guard), whose role is small but funny and memorable. Albert Nobbs features a very solid score and some good-looking sets. Ultimately, director Rodrigo Garcia is more concerned with interpersonal dynamics than developing really resonant themes. And that approach certainly holds the film back to a degree. Despite that, I found myself taken at times with this story. I liked Albert Nobbs, perhaps more than such a flawed film deserves. It's far from groundbreaking, but it hits more often than it misses.  


Meet the Author

Follow Us