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Albert Nobbs
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by Peter Sobczynski

"We Need To Talk About Albert. . ."
2 stars

As you have no doubt heard over and over by now, "Albert Nobbs" has been a pet project for Glenn Close ever since she appeared in a stage adaptation of the George Moore story nearly 30 years ago--not only does she star in the film, she co-produced it, co-wrote the screenplay and even helped to write its theme song. This speaks a lot for her tenacity but long before the first reel ends, most viewers will find themselves wondering why she bothered because whatever it was about the story or the part that stoked her passions, it has not made the jump to the screen along with everything else.

In it, she plays a woman in 19th-century Dublin who has been passing herself off for years as a man in order to live her life as unobtrusively as possible as a butler in a fancy hotel while saving enough money to open up a tobacco shop. A hiccup arrives in the form of Hubert Page, a house painter who has been engaged to do some work around the hotel, discover Albert's secret and then reveals that he is played by Janet McTeer, has a wife and seems more or less content with the world. This is a kind of brash freedom that Albert has never before contemplated--he seems convinced that Hubert and his mate are together only as a business arrangement--and begins to think that perhaps he could make a similar arrangement with a pretty chambermaid (Mia Wiaskowska), not suspecting that she is she has a lover in the hotel's thuggish new janitor (Aaron Johnson) and that they are trying to scam him for enough money to pay their way to America. Needless to say, it all winds up as depressing as possible, even by Irish standards.

I can see how the story might work on the page or even on the stage with the right casting but the chief problem with "Albert Nobbs" is that even though the whole thing has been Close's labor of love, it just doesn't work with her in the role anymore. If we are to buy Albert as a character, she has to be as inconspicuous and unassuming as possible so as to create the illusion of passing as a man for as long as she has. Alas, even though she has been made up and deglammed as much as possible, there is never a single moment in which viewers are unaware that they are not only looking at Glenn Close but that they are watching her ACTING, albeit in the most self-consciously quiet and reticent manner imaginable. Yes, her performance has been acclaimed and granted an Oscar nomination despite heavy competition but that feels more like a tribute to her tenacity than anything else. By comparison, McTeer (who also received an Oscar nomination for her performance as well) not only brings some much-needed life to the proceedings but is so convincing that even though I knew she was in the film, I didn't realize that it was her until her character's big reveal.

Unfortunately, since "Albert Nobbs" has essentially been conceived as a star vehicle where the star is its biggest liability, it doesn't have anything else to fall back on. The cast is filled with familiar faces (beyond those mentioned, it also finds room for the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Pauline Collines, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and two-thirds of the backup singers from The Commitments) but none of them really get much of anything to do. The screenplay is an oftentimes maddening creation filled with lines of dialogue that are just a little too spot-on for their own good ("We are both disguised as ourselves" being one that especially sticks out like a sore thumb) and which ends on a overly ambiguous note that will no doubt frustrate most viewers with its refusal to deal with the most basic questions that the story inspires. Add the molasses-paced direction by Rodrigo Garcia to the equation and you have a film that feels has though it takes as long to watch as it did to get to the screen in the first place. ""Albert Nobbs" is noble and well-intentioned as can be but in the end, it is all for naught and as much as it pains me to say it--and believe me, it really and truly pains me--this is a film that truly is a real drag.

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originally posted: 01/27/12 12:53:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2011 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2011 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/22/12 The Taitor A good attempt by Close by it's much too long and continued to be uninteresting 2 stars
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  21-Dec-2011 (R)
  DVD: 15-May-2012


  DVD: 15-May-2012

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