To say choices for women were limited over a hundred years ago does not even begin to grasp the situation. By this standard, the life of Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) becomes plausibly imaginable. Born as a woman, Albert Nobbs disguises herself as a man in order to gain employment in 19th Century Dublin. Established and respected as a waiter after many dedicated years of service in a hotel run by Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins), Albert’s life changes when Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) rolls into town. Forced to share a room, the discovery is made that Hubert is also a woman disguised as a man. The pair strikes an unlikely friendship as Albert’s advances on fellow young housemaid Helen (Mia Wasikowska) also accelerate.
Time spent focusing on the relationship between Albert and Hubert is much more interesting than the laborious interactions of Helen and her love interest/new handyman to the hotel Joe (Aaron Johnson). Wasikowska and Johnson are fine actors, but their lacklustre subplot only detracts from the true focus of the story. Thankfully, Pauline Collins brings some much needed life into an otherwise talented and yet stagnant group of supporting performers. Oddly, Jonathan Rhys Meyers even gives a strange cameo as a drunken hotel guest.
Glenn Close is the film’s selling point as Albert Nobbs. Giving one of her best performances to date, Close naturally demands award attention, and it seems more than likely that this will occur. She carries Albert’s pain and courage will every movement and is simply a master class in acting. Janet McTeer is particularly strong as Hubert and manages to steal the scene several times, also warranting deserved award attention.
Forgoing the usual climatic reveal scene that often feature in films regarding cross gender characters, the reveal is early on and proves to be both humourous as well as poignant. Moments gain partial insight into how both Hubert and Albert came to dressing as men, but the reasoning is a little more cryptic. The time period, however, bridges any gaping holes in character development. Sexuality is also foregone in the place of the daily logistics of Albert’s routines. The relationship between with Helen is initiated by Albert as it is seen as an extension of his façade as a man with aspirations of opening a shop.
Rodgrio Garcia’s directing is, as usual, rather derivative and does not really turn any heads. What he does understand is how to shoot Close. This being their third collaboration after Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her and Nine Lives shows that they seem to enjoy working together and understand how to capture Close’s best possible performance. Close spent 15 years attempting to get the film made and serves as a co-writer and producer. Adapted from George Moore’s short story and subsequent 1982 off Broadway production The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs (also starring Close) the screenplay co-written with John Banville and Gabriella Prekop could do with some sharpening, but is otherwise fine. Albert Nobbs is a subtle and simply film about a complex issue with standout performances from Close and McTeer.
Albert Nobbs will be theatrically released on December 26 through Hopscotch Films.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IVpuUxzKq4]