Glenn Close has apparently trying to get Albert Nobbs made for about 30 years. She played the role onstage in the 1980s and ever since has been working to bring the story of a female hotel waiter living as a man to the big screen. She finally succeeded. Unfortunately. While you have to give it some credit for the high-wire act of having not one, but two women playing women pretending to be men, there is a big problem with Albert Nobbs. In addition to being a boring and uninspired film, both women pretending to men are obviously women. Nobody would ever be fooled by them. Some movies require suspended disbelief, but in this case you have to believe that all of turn-of-the-century Dublin was unable to make the same determination you would make about two seconds after seeing either Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) or Hubert Page (Janet McTeer).
Close, who also co-wrote the script and produced, was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Nobbs. It’s hard to see why. Playing Nobbs, who has been living as a man since being raped at age 14, Close mostly sits, stares, talks quietly, and acts weird. There isn’t much sympathetic in either the character or the performance. Focusing mostly on earning enough money to open a small shop, Nobbs stays out of everyone’s way. If that sounds kind of boring, well, it is.
More lively by far is McTeer’s Page, a house painter who is even more obviously a woman than Nobbs. Page has embraced life and married a woman, encouraging Nobbs to do the same. Nobbs looks around and inconceivably chooses flirty hotel maid Helen (Mia Wasikowska), wooing her in an awkward and almost dense manner. Helen is encouraged to play along by her ne'er-do-well boyfriend (Aaron Johnson) who hopes to get his hands on Nobb’s savings. Oh, and there is also the hotel owner (Pauline Collins), a drunken doctor (Brendan Gleeson), a married Viscount (Jonathan Rhys-Myers) who travels with his “friend,” and other bits of local color that do little to distract from the way the film plods on and on.
Despite the few tentative side plots, it’s really the Albert Nobbs show, and therefore Close bears the blame for the failure. She does a reasonably good job of playing a weird socially inept person who is trying to improve her life but doesn’t really know how, but who wants to see that? Maybe with a more interesting story, a more sympathetic lead, or more inspired work, it could work, but this just doesn’t. McTeer’s Page is a much more interesting and engaging character and you find yourself wishing she’d show up on screen whenever she’s absent. The DVD for Albert Nobbs is as disappointing as the movie itself. It’s a very talky movie that doesn’t really require amazing picture or sound quality, but they are both fine. I did have to turn on the subtitles as a few of the accents were tough to make out when the dialogue was coming fast and furious. The real issue is the paucity of extras. Although I didn’t like it, Glenn Close and Janet McTeer rode this film to Oscar nominations, so how about a little information about their preparation, opinions, or feelings in a documentary or featurette? Heck, anything about anyone would have been better than the nothing you get.
There is a commentary featuring Close and director Rodrigo Garcia that gives you a sense of why Close spent so long trying to get the film made. I don't share her enthusiasm for the film, but as she talks about the film and the journey, you have to give her credit for not giving up on something she was passionate about. I had the same problem I often have with commentaries for movies I don’t like: Close and Garcia talk about Albert Nobbs in such a positive way, and I keep thinking “But…but…it’s not good.”
Other than the commentary, you get about eight minutes of deleted scenes. They include more scenes with maid Helen, her jerky boyfriend, and their interaction with Nobbs. Without any introductions or context, you get the sense they were just cut for time. The only other extra is the trailer.
These late-1800s and early-1900s period pieces are in vogue lately, what with the cool costumes and class distinctions, but I’d suggest jumping into the era somewhere else. Albert Nobbs, despite a good performance by McTeer, is just not that interesting. Hopefully the next project Close spends 30 years bringing to the screen will work out better.
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