Glenn Close buries herself in the lead role, allowing others in her superb cast to shine (especially Janet McTeer as Albert’s confidante as well as Mia Wasikowska & Aaron Johnson as doomed young lovers).
This is one of those “period pieces” which transport you to another time & place, in this case somewhere much more formal & slower-paced than our own. So be prepared to “settle in” a bit & then enjoy 🙂 Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.
How well I remember the first time I saw Neil Jordan’s film The Crying Game way back in 1992, in which a newcomer named Jaye Davidson played a hairdresser named “Dil.” What a shock when it was revealed that this woman was actually a man! In fact I was so shocked that I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a trick. I honestly thought Jaye Davidson was actually a woman playing a man impersonating a woman. I thought this right up until the moment when Jaye Davidson was nominated for an Oscar in… the Best Supporting Actor category!
There will be no comparable surprises in store for those watching Albert Nobbs. Glenn Close is such a well-known actress that no matter how much she transforms herself, we always know “Albert” is really a woman pretending to be a man. But accept that premise, and this meek Irish butler is actually the heroine of a tender little story that reveals much worth knowing about its own time and place.
The time is the late 19th Century and the place is Dublin. When we first meet “him,” Albert has spent decades in service, first as a waiter in high-end restaurants and then as a butler in posh hotels, and always as a man. Albert is excellent at his job, polite: self-effacing, and attentive to the smallest detail. Behavior alone indicates that Albert is more female than male in temperament, but everyone simply accepts Albert for who he appears to be. The people he serves “upstairs” gratefully shower him with tips; his colleagues “downstairs”shield his privacy under the assumption that he is simply excessively shy.
Then one day Albert’s employer (the ebullient Pauline Collins) hires a painter named “Hubert” to freshen the place up a bit, and even though Albert protests mightily, she insists that Hubert share Albert’s room. Unlike Glenn Close, actress Janet McTeer is not so well-known, so it takes a minute or two before we realize that Hubert is also a woman making her way in the world as a man. But once they are alone together, Albert and Hubert share these mighty secrets, and both lives are forever changed.
It would be a mistake to dismiss Albert Nobbs as just an episode of Masterpiece Theatre for the big screen. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia with a screenplay by Glenn Close herself (in collaboration with John Banville and Gabriella Prekop), Albert Nobbs is made with much love and scrupulous attention to period detail, and all the actors are terrific. Glenn Close and Janet McTeer are both at the top of their game in center stage, but I was also captivated by Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson as doomed lovers “Helen” and “Joe.”
Wasikowska and Johnson have both just entered their 20s having played in blockbuster multiplex films (for example, Alice in Wonderland for Wasikowska and Kick-Ass for Johnson) as well as highly-regarded art house films (Jane Eyre for Wasikowska and Nowhere Boy for Johnson), but in all of these films they both played kids. In Albert Nobbs, they broke my heart together as a young adult couple trapped by circumstance. Johnson’s burst of testosterone adds a welcome balance to the chemical mix, and their passion for each other ignites on screen, showing us the burning emotions buried underneath all the polite dialogue.
Albert Nobbs creates a constrained world with manners very different from our own. It’s a place we wouldn’t want to live in, but a good place to visit every once in a while if only to appreciate our own world all that much more when the lights come up.
On 1/24/12, Glenn Close (left) received an Oscar nomination in the “Best Actress” category, & Janet McTeer (right) received an Oscar nomination in the “Best Supporting Actress” category.
Photo Credits: Patrick Redmond/Roadside Attractions