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Albert Nobbs

A 2011 film directed by Rodrigo Garcia

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An explanation to my victory.

  • Jul 14, 2012
*** out of ****

His name is Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close). He is a waiter at a fancy hotel in Ireland. He is polite, doesn't talk much or at all other than when he is properly addressed - and other times finds company in himself when alone, and is genuinely well-liked for both these reasons and more. But the truth is that he is not a "he" at all. Albert is a woman dressed as a man in order to achieve the sort of employment that she has upheld for all these years. In 19th Century Ireland, women did not work. They could not work. Yet the physical implications of the action that is "work" run in Albert's veins. She dreams of opening a little tobacco shop in town; and hopefully by then, she will also be able to settle down with a wife at her side. But this is not easy. Albert must hide not only her gender but also her sexual orientation. She is, at heart, a lesbian; and society will not have such people walking amongst those who are deemed "straight". But...once a man, always a man; and the world must not know of the truth.

And indeed they do not. Everyone - from the hotel owner Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins) and the doctor (Brendan Gleeson) to the maids - is oblivious to Albert's identity. They believe she is a man. In today's world, she would hardly pass as one. But this was some time ago. We have to understand that her act was convincing enough for the people of the 19th Century. Albert's quiet and dangerous existence is shaken by the arrival of a painter to the hotel, a Mr. Hubert Page (Janet McTeer). Albert agrees to let this man share her bed, and on the first night; she incidentally lets the cat out of the bag. Hubert is surprisingly accepting of her secret and agrees to keep it just that. There is a reason behind this, but this is a film of pleasant surprises and to reveal the cause would only spoil a significant one (out of many more to come). After all...this is a film about Albert, among others.

The film is on one side compelling and on another uneven. Albert's story is a sad one treated in an almost spectacularly un-melancholic way; although I though the tone suited the film just fine. Without an overbearing sadness to it, the film will probably fare better with a wider audience than it would have otherwise. However, at the same time, it could have greatly benefited from a deeper character study. But as it is, it's still a pretty damn good one. So here's my problem: Albert's tale is consistently being interrupted by another crucial character, a maid named Helen (Mia Wasikowska), whose own story seeks to intertwine with Albert's, with mixed results. Helen is trying to figure out a life for herself and her new boyfriend, a working boy named Joe (Aaron Johnson), although his very own character flaws are seemingly invisible to her.

In a sense, Albert opens her mind to these flaws. Together, they form somewhat of an interesting friendship; not quite a romance because Albert doesn't seem overly interested in the girl romantically and would rather court someone a little older, but also something more than a simple friendship. The characters grow alongside each-other and also when they are separated. Again, it's not a "love" thing; but Helen wants money and free-bees from Albert and Albert wants companionship and life lessons from Helen. Like a true dreamer, she isn't about to let hers go so easily; but the times have not been particularly kind to her, and she must re-adapt to this world.

Rodrigo Garcia, once again working with the star (Close), directs with much passion and finesse. That's what I expect from a good period piece; and so that is what I got. But then again, there's this feeling of difference; an aspect of "Albert Nobbs" that separates it from most period pieces of today. Perhaps it's the fact that while most seem to be begging the viewer to regard them as old fashioned (cinematically speaking), this one effortlessly earns our trust from the very beginning. It isn't old fashioned, really, yet it also isn't new age stuff. It's in a category of its own, and that's what makes it so good. Garcia makes each frame his own; the cinematography is definitely a stand-out here. It draws the distinction between a good - but flawed - period drama and a boring - but flawed - one. There's a lot to praise here. The performances are all wonderful, and Close probably deserved to win that Oscar since this is one of her best roles, but everyone gets immersed in their character and does their best. And this would be a perfect time to mention Matthew W. Mungle's fantastic and utterly convincing make-up. McTeer and Close both got nominations from the Academy, although ultimately the film walked away with nothing. I can't say what it deserves and what it doesn't; although if I had to guess, it certainly deserves to be seen.

In one scene, Albert visits the home of Hubert and his wife and looks back on her personal history. There's the lingering question: "Why did she want to be a man?" and also "Why did she live such a strange and harsh life?" Her past explains this. It would seem *spoiler alert* a bad run-in with a gang of rapists *end spoiler* did the trick. The film is about many things. Identity; judgment; redemption; trust; secrecy; and being your own man (or woman, as the case may be). Nevertheless, it's also about sexuality; minus the sex. Take that as you will, because this fancy film serves it up on a silver platter. It's presentable, pleasant enough (for a film of such a depressing premise), and completely engaging from beginning to end. In the summer of 2011 I met Close personally, after she had just finished this film. As a writer, producer, and star; it was a labor of love, and you could see it reflected on her face. Perhaps that's why I won the ring-toss game that day.

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January 09, 2013
Nice review. Haven't heard of this one but will look for it on cable.
July 18, 2012
Good detailed review!
More Albert Nobbs reviews
review by . August 18, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Outstanding film
The story opens in 19th century Ireland, where Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a hotel butler/waiter. He's also a woman, forced to hide his identity because a woman alone often ended up in the workhouse or worse. Albert has big plans, however, and dreams of the day when he can own his own little shop.      I was expecting this movie to be a cloying male-impersonator story like "Yentl," but it was so much more than that; it's a scathing and heartbreaking look at …
review by . December 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Albert Nobbs, adapted from George Moore’s short story “The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs,” was clearly intended to explore themes of identity – or, more precisely, how identity is starkly divided between who we are within and what we show to the world. It’s a compelling idea, and yet this movie is missing something. It never quite comes together. It introduces us to a number of interesting characters who are either …
review by . December 30, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A Man's World?
ALBERT NOBBS Written by Glenn Close and John Banville Directed by Rodrigo Garcia Starring Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer and Aaron Johnson   Dr. Hollaran: We are both disguised as ourselves.   Glenn Close first played the titular role of ALBERT NOBBS on stage nearly thirty years ago. She defined the role for the stage and has been trying to get the play, based on a short story, made into a film ever since. Her aspirations have finally been realized, resulting in what …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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