Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Albert Nobbs (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Albert Nobbs

For whatever reason, I found myself thinking of Rene Magritte  and Peter Sellers constantly while watching "Albert Nobbs," the Academy Award nominated film for the category of Best Actress, Glenn Close. As soapy as the film is, Close does a remarkable job as the gender-bending butler Albert Nobbs. It is a role that could very well be played for its dark kitsch. But Close walled in my critical defenses and it became increasingly difficult  for me not to admire her or rather, him. Close IS Albert. She doesn't budge an inch out of character. 

Albert's impenetrable black bowler hat, her Martian white features and  far away extraterrestrial expressions pay tribute to everything from Anthony Hopkins in "The Remains of the Day" to Peter Sellers in "Being There", yet Close makes the character uniquely her own. This is a person who is all occupation and function. Albert Nobbs is a complete visual painting right out of Magritte's The Son of Man (1964). The film is at its best when we see Nobbs fully within her own mystery. She is so tight and so reticent that she pushes Victorian severity to Neo-gothic heights. It comes as  no surprise then, that the modern  Gothic author John Banville co-wrote the screenplay along with Close herself.

There is much heartfelt quirk and stormy Oppression here, but like the famous Magritte painting showing a embodied suit with no visible head, the film is missing its core.

Nobbs is star-struck by the brash and devil-may- care female-as male- painter Hubert played wonderfully by Janet Mcteer. There is the progressive hint here of a Utopian future where people can be as they want to appear without any difference in a discriminating 19th century. Their scenes together are full of camaraderie, tension and haunt. But then there is so much back and forth ala "Downton Abbey" that it seems like so much soap opera on PBS. 

It is less compelling to worry about whether the young Helen (Mia Wasikowska) will survive her abusive Joe (Aaron Johnson) who is not really attractive at all. One wonders why the spunky Helen is drawn to him in the first place, since he seems to have all the compassion of a sociopath. Even fatherhood doesn't soften him.

Most of the characters seem secondary. There is the supercilious and harsh Mrs Baker (Pauline Collins) and a doctor played by the fine actor Brendan Gleeson who seems to primarily exist in order to uncover Albert's secret.

With a bit of tweaking, "Albert Nobbs"could have been as eerie or as riveting as a David Cronenberg character study. There is much hustle and bustle around Albert, but she / he remains detached. She is a cypher unto herself, content to peer in closets and venture between walls. Close's role has as much in keeping with the spaced out and aghast fiqures of George Tooker than anything else.

Whatever its melodramatic pitfalls at times,"Albert Nobbs" will not leave fans of Glenn Close disappointed. Her nomination is no twist of fate. The film is as much a cinematic interpretation of Rene Magritte and Sellers' Chauncey Gardiner, as it is a quirky drama of manners and cultural hopes.

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