Albert Nobbs 2011 ★★★★
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.
Nominated for Best Actress for playing a man? Sounds interesting. Not big on Glenn Close, but I did like her as Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians (1996).
Here we go.
I barely heard of this movie. I didn’t hear a thing about it till it was up for 3 nominations at the Academy Awards for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Makeup. And all the rage behind it was Glenn Close playing a man. I thought, this is interesting. Other than that I didn’t know a thing about it. Picked up the DVD to watch it and even the summary on the back is rather vague. The last line says “Some thirty years after donning men’s clothing, she finds herself trapped in a prison of her own making.” OK. So far, I have surmised beyond the obvious that this takes place in 19th-century Ireland and that it’s a drama. So far so good, I guess.
Now, sitting down and watching the movie, it all makes sense. Slowly. Based on “The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs” by George Moore, the story largely takes place in a hotel where Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is employed. It’s a nice script, treated and written well by Close, John Banville and Gabriella Prekop. The only things that got to me really were how slow everything developed and how scattered the pieces to the story were. At the beginning, many characters were being introduced and then they were shown here and there, not really developing. What also got me at first was how Joe Mackins (Aaron Johnson) started to take up some real estate in the film despite the title being around Albert. Being a period piece, I expected the story to progress slowly, however events happen on top of events with no real significance up front. But that is where the writing really shows its stuff. What appeared to me after watching the film was the script was heavily invested in the final payoff, with all of these events and incidents adding up only to being combined later at the climax of the film. Everything then makes sense at the climax, and that is where the script shines. The love triangle between Albert, Helen (Mia Wasikowska) and Joe, Albert’s dreams of the tobacco shop and Helen as his bride and all of the advice and experience Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) gives to Albert about his situation. It’s a very good script, you just have to hang in long enough and gather everything up to Act 3 to get it. Now, real quickly, I wanted to add that I thought this was a relevant script to society. Without going too much into transgender and transvestite definitions and stances, I thought this was a good story to touch on that area. And the characters (read on) of Albert and Hubert Page really help shine a light on their identities and who they believed they were in 19th-century Ireland.
I’m saying it – a very great cast. Glenn Close and Janet McTeer definitely deserved nominations from the Academy of their roles in the film. Expanding from the previous statement above, they really dug deep into their roles as women dressing as men to get by and to work in a time and a place where it is looked down upon. Again, I could write a paper or book or journal entry about the whole transgender and transvestite sympathies and undertones in the film, but that’s a paper, book or journal entry and not a review. Close really delved deep into portraying a masculine and proper waiter at the Morrison’s hotel. A lot of Albert’s dialogue is very subtle, with very little to no real emotion in it, but that doesn’t detract from the role. What really shines is the acting without dialogue. McTeer complements as Hubert Page, also a woman who poses as a man to get a job as a house painter. Like Close, McTeer really brings out the role and in the scenes where they are together, they sell it. There are moments where I believed they were men. Go figure. Mia Wasikowska as Helen Dawes and Aaron Johnson form the other pieces of the love triangle that is the sub-plot. I’ve seen Mia in Alice in Wonderland (2010) and The Kids Are Alright (also 2010) and Aaron in Nowhere Boy (2009) where he plays a great John Lennon and in Kick-Ass (2010). I like both of them and they really fit in this story despite the fact that initially, they were separate from each other in the story. Pauline Collins plays Mrs. Baker, the headmistress of Morrison’s and she plays a very convincing headmistress. Rounding out the cast is Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Viscount Yarrell, Brendan Gleeson as Dr. Holloran and look out for Mark Williams as Sean Casey, another waiter. Mark Williams would be known to many as Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. These actors play smaller roles, but they are great nonetheless. Brendan Gleeson steals scenes as the Dr., which is nothing new to me after seeing The Guard (2011) and in the Harry Potter films as Mad-Eye Moody. A really great cast all around.
The Technical Parts
Now I have only seen a handful of films from across the pond, but cinematographers over there know what they are doing. Michael McDonough, who worked on Winter’s Bone (2010), shot a rather lavish and beautiful looking film. It’s funny. Watching this film, I kept getting reminded of the work Danny Cohen did for The King’s Speech (2010). Low contrast, high-key lighting for dramatic effect, a lot of blues for exterior shots around the city of Dublin, and magnificent tracking shots. Look out for the sequence with Albert and Helen in the park toward the latter half of the movie. It’s totally just like the scene with King George and Lionel. You know what scene I’m talking about. The camera moves swiftly and smoothly. Again, they know what they’re doing.
-New- The Director
I felt Rodrigo Garcia did a great job directing this film. The blocking of the actors and actresses made everything seem accurate and organic. Making a period piece isn’t easy. Assembling the right cast, and creating the right setting was key for this picture, and Garcia accomplished that. What also worked for him was Glenn Close, who played this role on stage, co-produced the film and lobbied for it.
The Bottom Line
This was a good picture. Not phenomenal. But not terrible or unwatchable. Sure it’s slow, but everything does add up at the end, and makes sense as the film progresses as well. Filmed well, edited well, directed well, and played by a great cast. A film for me to watch every now and again, but not enough for me to click the like button. Watch it though. Give it a shot. You may be as surprised as I was after reading the back of the DVD case.