Thursday, December 8, 2011

Albert Nobbs ★★ ★

Release Date Australia: 26th December 2012
Other Countries Release Dates

Humorous, my corset

Albert Nobbs is not a fun night out at the cinema. It’s an interesting night out at the cinema, but choose this movie knowing you are going to see Oscar worthy performances strung around a sad, sad story of poverty. If you are a woman, you will come out of it grateful to be living in the twenty-first century.

Glenn Close’s involvement with the character of Albert Nobbs stretches back almost three decades to her 1982 performance in Simone Benmussa’s theatrical interpretation of the short story, “Albert Nobbs” by nineteenth century Irish author, George Moore. ‘I think Albert is one of the truly great characters and the story, for all the basic simplicity, has this strange emotional power,’ says Close, whose portrayal in the Off Broadway production scooped her an Obie Award.

Close plays Albert Nobbs, a woman who from the age of fourteen disguises herself as a man to survive the extreme poverty in Ireland. The divide between the haves and the have nots is extreme in this period and this social commentary is played for all its worth in the movie. After various waiting jobs, Nobbs ends up working as a respected butler in the luxurious Dublin hotel, Morrison’s.

Albert has reached a crossroads in his life, after meticulously saving his pennies and farthings to amass a tidy lump sump. He begins to question his life and believes that he may be able to create a pretend marriage with Helen (Australian Mia Wasikowska), a selfish hotel maid and open a business. But nothing is easy for Albert and as his plan evolves it is clear that his chosen road may not be as simple as he innocently believes.

Just as The Iron Lady is an Oscar© vehicle for Meryl Streep, so too, Albert Nobbs is clearly a carpet ride for Close. When the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations are announced she will be there but I’m not sure if she should be.

Whilst it is a performance created by quality acting and the clever use of prosthetics, I found her portrayal of the sad Albert Nobbs contrived and overplayed. Whereas, Janet McTeer, playing Hubert Page, felt more real in her character who was faced with the same dilemma as Close’s.

Throughout the movie it is a real struggle to see Glenn Close as anything but a woman playing a man. There are many—too many I think—lingering close ups, so we can appreciate Albert’s subservience and position, but, to me she and McTeer just looked weird—freakishly weird—and that really detracts from the story.

And this leads me to the unreconciled plot-hole—that these servants, in this hotel, did not suspect, for even one moment that Albert Nobbs was a man. They lived in each other’s pockets and, yet, nothing, not even a hint of gossip. Its just not possible.

Albert Nobbs is not a terrible movie but I kept thinking if you took out the sad little Mr Nobbs and built a story around the other characters then we would have a more fulfilling upstairs, downstairs drama than what we were fed.

Close has said that she recognised the humour in the story from the very beginning and she believed in it enough, that she actually penned the screenplay and produced the film. ‘Through all these years of working on Albert Nobbs I knew that there was humour in it,’ she says.

For what it's worth, either she failed in her attempt at humour, or Glenn Close and I laugh at very different things.