Sunday, February 12, 2012
ALBERT NOBBS (2011)
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Where & When: Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, Los Angeles, CA. January 29, 2012 7:00PM
"The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs", based on a short story by George Moore, has been a passion of Glenn Close ever since she first performed the role in a stage production back in 1982 for which she won an Obie Award. After several fits and starts over the years, Ms Close has finally been able to assemble a film version of the project. Now shortened to just, "Albert Nobbs", Ms Close was very hands on with not only starring, producing, and co-writing the screenplay but she even found time to co-write the closing song, "Lay Your Head Down" which is sung by Irish pop singer, Sinead O'Connor.
Set in Ireland during the 19th Century, Albert Nobbs (Close) appears to be a quiet, simple little man who has been working for many years as a butler in a Dublin Hotel run by the stern hand of the coquettish Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins). However, Mr.Nobbs has been keeping a secret; he is actually a woman which no one, surprisingly, has ever suspected. He has been saving all of his earnings to one day open a tobacco shop and almost has enough to make it a reality.
Hubert Page, a painter from out of town, has been hired to repaint some rooms at the hotel and Mrs. Baker insists that he share Albert's room during his stay. Terrified that his secret could be revealed, Albert tries to avoid going to sleep but a flea in his clothing causes the painter to see who he really is. Albert begs for Hubert to keep his secret but Albert soon discovers that he has a similar secret of his own. Hubert, played by Janet McTeer, has also been living a life as a man and even has been happily married to a woman for many years. Intrigued by the idea, Nobbs decides to court Helen (Mia Wasikowska), a saucy, young maid, in the hopes that they will wed and help him run his future business. Helen, however, only has eyes for Joe (Aaron Johnson), a rough,strapping stud who is a new hire at the hotel and soon they discreetly become lovers. Made aware that Nobbs is attracted to his girl, Joe encourages Helen take walks with him to get gifts and money to help them move to America. This triangle leads to a regrettable conclusion for all involved.
Ms Close (who recently received her sixth Academy Award nomination for her role) gives a strong, heartfelt performance but she's never believable as a man for one moment. The act of simply putting on male drag and lowering your voice does not make an actual man. Close never brings enough of a male aesthetic to be able to seriously convince everyone she encounters and Nobbs says so little that he leaves no real impression, making it difficult to have any connection to him. Ms McTeer (also an Oscar nominee), on the other hand, is much more successful in conveying an authentic masculine presence and delivers quite an impressive performance. Notable Irish actors, Brendan Gleeson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and the Oscar winner for "My Left Foot", Brenda Fricker add brief but compelling appearances in the film.
Rodrigo Garcia, who worked with Ms Close previously on two films, is a very gifted filmmaker who has created some splendid films such as "Nine Lives" and "Mother And Child" but he was probably not the best choice for this project. He is best known for female-driven, reality-based dramas which he has brought to this film but "Albert Nobbs" is more of fable and required a lighter approach. The film feels heavy-handed and fastidious and considering the plot, it would have benefited with something more surreal and whimsical. It would have been interesting to see what someone like Almodovar would have done with this material.
"Albert Nobbs" delivers an intriguing story of what extreme measures a woman is willing to to endure to find a place in a society that doesn't offer one unless she has a man at her side by becoming the man that she needs. Although the film is certainly well-made and features some admirable performances, but it's emotionally constrained, much like Albert Nobbs, and fails to fully draw you in to this tragic tale.