Albert Nobbs

Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman

Since starring in a 1982 stage adaptation of the short story, Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close has been attached to the character. Working with others for 15 years on creating a full length feature, Close has finally bought Albert Nobbs to audiences. Under the direction of Rodrigo Garcia, Close’s vision is a fairly confusing, yet thought provoking film.

It’s19th century Ireland and Albert Nobbs is a waiter for a hotel that caters to the rich and snobbish. Seen by most as a strange little man who keeps to himself, Nobbs is in fact a woman pretending to be a man. Stowing all of his tips and earnings under a floor board in his room, Nobbs dreams of owning his own tobacco shop. After a chance meeting with another woman pretending to be a man, Nobbs gets the idea he needs a wife to handle the store front and begins to court young Helen. Another waitress, Helen is persuaded to take gifts from Nobbs by her boyfriend, the loose cannon, Joe. Amongst the backdrop of hard times and typhoid fever, situations boil over and Nobbs’ life plan begins to change.

Thinking of the movie on its own (separate from whatever the original stories purpose may have been), it’s hard to tell if Albert Nobbs is trying to be uplifting or soul shattering. The secretive lives of most of the characters can be seen as a mirror telling the audience, “Don’t hide from who you are.” At the same time, the ultimate story arc of the same characters follows a more, Requiem for a Dream theme of, “Your hopes will destroy you.” The ambiguous nature of the delivery makes for great table chatter and yet, the same ambiguity leaves too many important questions unanswered.

A litany of smaller issues fogged my mind through out the screening. With a slew of multinational actors throwing around different dialects and accents, it’s not until an outright mention of the film’s location that I was sure they were in Ireland. Till that point, I thought they were in London with a slight influx of Irish helpers.

While I wouldn’t go and say Glenn Close is very manly looking, it’s not that far fetched that her character can get away posing as one. The same can’t be said for Janet McTeer’s character, Hubert. A towering statue of a man who is indeed less glamorous and far more rugged than McTeer in her normal state, I was dumbfounded how any character, especially Nobbs, could look at Hubert and not blurt out, “You look a mighty lot like a woman!” It’s Hubert’s influence on Nobbs that diverts the course of Albert’s future, so it ‘s never the intention to keep the audience guessing long that Hubert was indeed a female. Through the entire film, even after the early reveal, I was floored how the characters couldn’t see it, dramatic depiction or not.

Most shockingly, Glenn Close’s performance is wholly nominal. Nobbs is an understated character that keeps to himself, leaving little room for Close to break out. Even in Nobbs’ few heated moments, he’s stale and stringent. In that tense moment, Close does show a hidden power behind the tiny man, however fleeting it may be.

Call me a fan-boy if you must, but the always welcome appearance of Brendan Gleeson does lift my spirits in any viewing scenario, and that’s no different here. For a period piece with a very dreary outlook, it moves fairly well and kept me interested. That being said, every time Gleeson came on screen, I couldn’t help but feel a little better than the second before.

Thoughts, theories, and the peculiarly awkward ending of Albert Nobbs keep running through my head. A film that juggles with its story and my senses so much, normally would catch my scathing ire. Somehow though, my questions about the character and the finished work leave me with an odd taste of appreciation. Still, it’s not enough to stand behind it and tell you to buy a ticket.

Rating: 2 and a half out of 5 ‘Staches

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