Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Albert Nobbs

After watching Glenn Close play a brassy lawyer on Damages for a few years it's something of a shock to see her in the title of Albert Nobbs, the story of a 19th century Irish woman masquerading as a man for work and survival. If you recall Close's femininity in The Big Chill and even Fatal Attraction then the physical change alone she undergoes to play Albert - tight haircut, deep voice, and a mysterious shift to the angle of her jaw - is genuinely impressive. Albert is a trusted waiter in the kind of Dublin hotel where the guests never change and the staff enjoys gossiping about both the guests and each other. Moving through the bustle with a shy but firm presence, Albert flawlessly carries out his duties by day and hides money under the floorboards at night. His plan to leave the hotel and open a business comes into focus with the arrival of Mr. Page (Janet McTeer), another woman traveling in the world of men. Page is a brash house painter, unafraid to banter with Albert's boss (Pauline Collins) and married to a pretty woman named Cathleen (Bronagh Gallagher). The nature of Page's marriage is never quite explained, but Janet McTeer gives Page an unrepentant sexuality that's the most appealing thing about the movie. Though we learn why Albert had to live as a man, the screenplay (which Close collaborated on with the novelist John Banville) never lets us get inside Albert's head in the same way. Albert's attempt to court a maid named Helen (Mia Wasikowska, whose own romance with a cad played by Aaron Johnson fills out the movie) is presented as a matter of economics rather than romance; Albert needs Helen to help run the shop he sees in his head. I never felt Albert's need to connect with another person the way I did with Page and Cathleen, and Albert's fate isn't moving enough. Albert Nobbs explains why its main character becomes a man, but it doesn't do enough to explain what that choice does to her or why she stays that way.

1 comment:

Jason Comerford said...

Nobody seems to remember Glenn Close's uncredited cameo in HOOK, where she's made up to look like a male pirate and is almost completely unrecognizable.