If there is ever an award given for “Creepiest Wax Statue Impression,” it would surely go to Glenn Close. Playing the title character in Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs, she spends a good chunk of the film quietly observing, not moving a muscle, as any good butler in the early 1900’s would do. And that’s what she plays here. A butler working in an Irish Hotel, trying to make a living while passing herself off as a man who secretly hides his earnings in the floorboards of his room, with aspirations to one day open himself a Tobacco Shop.
The problem with that logic was that Glenn Close’s makeup (or lack there of?) was just kind of unsettling to me. I honestly didn’t feel like she looked like a man. Albert Nobbs just looked like an old woman in men’s clothing. There is also another character named Mr. Page (played by Janet McTeer) who is introduced as a man painting the hotel, who is told to share and sleep in Albert’s room by the Hotel’s owner, and is supposed to be the “Oh no, Albert has to sleep with a man in his room, how is he going to hide his secret?” character, until it’s soon revealed that she too is a woman making a living as a dude. But this character also resembles very little to an actual man. I’m not saying that this is THAT important, because yes, you as an audience member already know that they are women, but it just distracted me a bit, and left me thinking “well, if I can tell this easily, how can these people not?”But the bigger picture here is how this movie flows. Act 1 is spent introducing you to Albert’s character, establishing him as a gentle person who just aspires for something greater. The 2nd Act is where the film completely fell apart, for me. All at once the film just kind of throws several sub-plots on you. Most of which were pretty unnecessary. One example being Brendan Gleeson’s character, Dr. Holloran having a hidden relationship with one of the waitresses in the hotel, that pretty much disappears from the story as quickly as it showed up, without really having any impact on anything. It’s just there. For No Reason.
Which leads me to the relationships. Albert, obviously, quickly develops a friendship with Mr. Page, the painter, who introduces Albert to his wife. They have a fine dinner, in which Mr. Page makes a mention about a young girl who also works at the hotel as a waitress named Helen (Mia Wasikowska). Up until this point, Albert has never really acknowledged Helen as more than just a co-worker, as well as quietly observing her and her boyfriend Joe’s (Aaron Johnson) developing relationship. But as soon as Mr. Page mentions Helen, Albert goes home and suddenly decides he has fallen in love with her and wants to marry her. It just felt so forced.
It was moments like that in the screenplay, that were so rushed and so out of the blue, that didn’t allow you to really develop any sense of attachment to the characters and their arcs. During the third act when the, what is supposed to be shocking, turn of events happens, it once again happens in the blink of an eye, and before you can even process what just happened, you’re swiftly being rushed away to the epilogue. I can’t help but feel like the ending wasn’t really any good, when that particular moment happens, and instead of reveling in it’s seriousness, the audience could be heard snickering. Mind you, this wasn’t an audience of teenagers, as roughly 90% of the theater were people over the age of 50.
This isn’t to say that Albert Nobbs was all bad. Glenn Close, as creepy as she looked, did actually turn in a greatly subdued performance. The one scene that worked best, I thought, was one where Albert and Mr. Page both put dresses on and go for a stroll on the beach. After stating that she has forgotten what its like to be a women, Albert tears off running along the waterline letting the wind flow through her hair and her dress. For a moment, you can see the freedom wash over the character and it’s pretty touching.
Albert Nobbs DID have a good message to it, though, regardless on my opinions towards it. To be proud of who you are. Not to spend your life hiding yourself, whether you’re gay, straight, man, or woman. It’s definitely a great message. Just one that was unfortunately, in my opinion, poorly executed.
by Richard Pepper