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Albert Nobbs - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Albert Nobbs
Directing: B-
Acting: A-
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

Albert Nobbs is both engaging and entertaining as long as you're not too much of a critical thinker. Glenn Close was rightly nominated for her portrayal of the title character, although one could easily argue it's still not quite her best performance. It's not her fault that the script calls for Nobbs's mystifying naiveté, but Close admirably commits to what the script calls for.

It's a tricky thing to decipher this character, as one must consider things like social status, profession, and time period as all equally relevant. This is 19th Century Ireland, and Nobbs has been working for years as a waiter -- a woman disguised as a man.

But very early on, this question comes up: I wonder what is the proper pronoun for this person? Biologically, Nobbs is clearly female (we get a brief glimpse at breasts to prove it). But when someone asks Nobbs, "What's your real name?", he repeats a second time: "Albert." We never do find out what name Nobbs was given at birth.

But when Nobbs is talking to himself, contemplating the courtship of Helen (Mia Wasikowska), a young maid in the hotel where he's working, he wonders out loud when he (she?) should reveal that she's actually a woman. This establishes clearly that Nobbs regards himself not as a man, but as a woman passing as a man.

Granted, in the 19th century there was no language for such things as transgendered people, but would it have killed the script writers (Close herself co-wrote) to be less vague about this? When Nobbs's back story is finally revealed, it has nothing to do with gender identity, and everything to do with a woman falling into a mode of living due to a chance opportunity. In one baffling scene, Nobbs's fellow cross-dressing friend Hubert (Janet McTeer) dresses them both up in his late wife's dresses for a stroll on the beach. Nobbs, clearly awkward in full female dress, nevertheless runs down the beach as if free. Cut back to Hubert's place, where he tells Albert, "You don't have to be anything but what you are."

But what is Albert Nobbs? Albert Nobbs never answers this question. We only know that Nobbs is saving money under a floor board in his bedroom and dreams of opening a smoke shop. He sets his sights on Helen as a prospective wife, even though Helen has a conniving love interest of her own (Aaron Johnson). Does Nobbs feel the only way he can be self-sufficient is as a man rather than as a woman, but in that case he should still take a wife? He's terribly nervous in his pursuit of Helen, but never once indicates a genuine sexual attraction to her.

The plot takes some unexpected turns and keeps things interesting. This is a story that easily holds attention, and yet barely skims the surface of everything going on, which should have far more depth. Albert Nobbs is based on a play in which Close played the title character thirty years ago, and she spent decades trying to get a film made. One can only hope the play had more depth. The one truly predictable plot point is that it does not exactly end well for Nobbs, and it's an unsatisfying end because we never find out what truly made him tick.

The acting is pretty much first-rate all around, with the likes of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Brendan Gleeson also popping up. Albert Nobbs would not be even as good as it is if not for how well cast it is. Janet McTeer is particularly wonderful as Hubert, and it's unfortunate her performance is so overshadowed by all the attention Glenn Close has gotten. When it comes down to it, though, Albert Nobbs could have been a standout film and instead has been rendered a trifle of a showpiece.

albert nobbs

Overall: B-
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