Albert Nobbs (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Albert Nobbs (2012)

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Albert Nobbs is a film with a topic that resounds all too well given the President’s recent support of gay marriage.  It’s a topic I feel passionately about, as I’ve long defended a number of friends in their right to express their love in their way, and (if longtime readers and podcast listeners have picked up on anything) I'm a fan of more people have sex without shame.  Maybe if it was released a few months later it would have been more popular.  Possibly also derided for being suspiciously timed along with the announcement, but timing is as much an important factor as skill and execution when it comes to popular culture.

All that said, I couldn’t bring myself to care much about this film.  Or, more precisely, two thirds of this movie need an extreme makeover beyond pancaking up Glenn Close and sticking a girdle on her.  Her execution of Nobbs, a woman passing as a man in a lower-middle class serving job, is splendid but it feels intruded on by a love story so bland and unnecessary it comes straight from a Screenwriting For Dummies handbook.  Not the love story of Janet McTeer’s character,  Hubert Page, which gives the film it’s only heft, but the heteronormative love tale between the working-class characters played by Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson.

Since Glenn Close had a hand in writing the screenplay for the film I have to wonder why, in a film which so clearly sympathizes with the LGBT community, this parallel love story was necessary?  The original short story by George Moore sits unread by me, but I hope to literary heavens it was not filled with as many “We’ll get out of here I swear it” moments that are shared between these two bland nobodies.  The film should be about Albert and his gender torture,  not the dramadey sputterings of the background players.

Similarly, director Rodrigo Garcia brings nothing to the table in terms of style or sense of humor.  The settings are the kind of post-Industrial trappings you think of when you’re bored, not trying to draw an audience into the world.  It’s a far cry from the bustling house with all its secrets in Downton Abbey, and barely has the distinction of appearing any different from a number of crumbling Southern homes I used to walk by.  Further distracting are his use of well-known actors in role’s which amount to one line.

Brendan Gleeson is the most ill-used, and his character highlights some of the more obvious dimensions the plot takes.  He is a doctor whose lines consist mostly of grumbling about food and whose appearance and subsequent non-involvement confirms that his only point to the story is to eventually treat Nobbs for something and discover his secret.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who I’m certainly not a fan of, is window dressing in two scenes where he gets to live the male version of Nobbs’ dilemma, viewing him in homosexual dalliance with a man later revealed to be dressing up as a woman as well.

I enjoyed the way the film did present this, however briefly, as even a gender imbalance of power exists even for those living outside the norm, but nothing is done with it.  The only successful plot thread is in the Hubert’s arrangement with his wife.  Hubert revealed himself as a woman to his wife long ago, and they still married in a play which is seen as an economic move by Albert, but we see in their relationship real love and tenderness.  This raises so many interesting questions about their life and love together I could have almost done entirely without Nobbs and focused my remaining attention on those two.

But then I’d still be without Nobbs, and as dull as the film is Glenn Close still clocked in an incredible amount of pain into her performance.  Close uses a impish, wounded voice for Nobbs, making him the kind of person who would like to disappear completely but cannot for fear of leaving a hole someone might notice.  She plays Nobbs as a man so paralyzed about his present his dreams have become sterile and sad.  Her performance is destined for the kind of greatness a better film could have fulfilled.

This is not a bold film, despite its gender politics, and I wish it took a firm stance on anything.  Instead the film is as committed to strength as Nobbs is, settling for a routine setting and stock characters when there are such rich depths to be plumbed right there.

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Albert Nobbs (2012)

Directed by Rodrigo Garcia.
Screenplay by Gabriella Prekob, John Banville, and Glenn Close.
Starring Glenn Close and Janet McTeer.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. The performances were good, especially a phenomenal McTeer, but everything else was pretty boring and uninspiring, even though that’s exactly the opposite of what this film was trying to go for. Almost didn’t recognize Close though, so that’s a plus I guess. Good review Andrew.

    • Thanks for the comment Dan. This film presented an interesting challenge for the overall rating. I was a lot more bored than I usually am during a film I would Dislike, but still had Close and McTeer’s performances to love.

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