“Albert Nobbs” Delivers
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Think of it as the antithesis of a Tyler Perry movie about Madea. Instead of a big black man playing a comical yo’ mamma character in a modern-day setting for a wide-release movie, “Albert Nobbs” is a period piece about a petite white woman posing as a male character in a limited-release indie film.
Did you get confused?
Can’t blame you when it comes to gender-bender cinema.
But “Albert Nobbs” is worth your attention. In it, Glenn Close portrays Albert Nobbs, who is actually a woman passing as a man, so she can work as a waiter in a ritzy Dublin hotel.
At 5’ 5” this frail actress makes a small, severe-looking man, with short sweptback hair, hollow cheeks, and wary eyes. Not the glamorous Glenn Close of “Fatal Attraction” or “Dangerous Liaisons.”
Close first played Albert Nobbs in a 1982 off-Broadway stage production for which she won an Obie Award.
During her career Close has been nominated for five Oscars, won three Tonys, three Emmys, two Golden Globes, and a Screen Actors Guild Award – in addition to that Obie.
Based on a 1927 short story (“The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs”) by the Irish writer George Moore, this film is a quiet little character drama. As Helen (Mia Wasikowska) observes, “You are the strangest man I have ever met.”
At a party, Dr. Holloran (Brendan Gleeson) asks, “Why aren’t you in fancy dress?”
“I’m a waiter,” replies Nobbs.
“Well I’m a doctor,” says Holloran. “We are both disguised as ourselves.”
An inverted truth.
When the hotel’s owner forces Albert to share a room with a cocky house painter named Hubert Page, her secret identity is revealed. But there’s more than one secret unveiled here. Turns out, Hubert (Janet McTeer) is a woman in disguise also.
Following Page’s example, Albert dreams of opening a small tobacco shop one day, perhaps building a relationship with pretty colleague Helen. But Helen is a needy and insecure girl who falls prey to a slick boiler repairman (Aaron Johnson) and rejects Albert’s proposal.
The film ends with some tragedy and some hope for its characters. Hubert proves to be a guardian angel for the cruelly treated Helen. And Albert Nobbs becomes a symbol of class and sexual divisions in 19th-Century Ireland.
“Albert Nobbs” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Delivering incredible performances, both Glenn Close and Janet McTeer were nominated for Academy Awards as (respectively) Best Actress and Best Supporting Actresses – but lost to Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Help”).
Nevertheless, Close achieved her dream of bringing the play to the screen, a 15-year quest. In addition to starring in “Albert Nobbs,” Close produced the film, wrote most of the script, and oversaw the casting.
Tyler Perry’s blowsy gun-toting Medea could learn a thing or two about underplaying a crossdresser role from Glenn Close. And Albert Nobbs could learn something about attracting larger audiences from Tyler Perry.
How can we speak of such diverse films in the same sentence? Hey, didn’t the Greeks have two masks for the art of theater – comedy and tragedy?