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Albert Nobbs

Glenn Close first played this role on stage in 1982(when she was in her mid 30’s)and has apparently been trying to bring this story to the big screen for quite some time. Finally getting it done at the age of 64 must feel like some sort of victory to her, and I applaud her tenacity. I bow to her acting ability too. I’ve often admired her style—remember she used to run neck-and-neck with Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange for Oscar nominations in the 1980’s. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, she was passed over each time(six nominations and counting, including this one where she lost to—Meryl Streep). So, it is with somewhat of a heavy heart that I pan this obvious labor of love. It begins promisingly and the acting is fine. But it soon diverts into some kind of science fiction/horror show with some pretty bizarre scenarios and relationships being presented—and then never fully explored. It’s a shame really, because I started out rooting for it only to end up admitting that the final product just isn’t very good.               Albert Nobbs is a woman living as a man in 19th century Dublin working as a waiter at a hotel. Albert has been stashing earnings away for years with the hope of someday opening a tobacco shop. When Hubert Page(fellow nominee Janet McTeer)arrives at the hotel, “he” ends up rooming with Albert because of a shortage of bed space. A somewhat convoluted situation reveals Albert’s quite womanly breasts, and Mr. Nobbs lathers into a panic while pleading with Hubert not to reveal “his” secret. It seems Albert was unable to find work as a working class single woman in London, and has only been able to eek out a living by coming to Ireland and living as a man. No worries, promises Hubert—and, guess what? Here are MY boobs—I’m a chick, too! Then things start(!) getting creepy. Turns out that Mr. Page is married and living a normal domestic life with his wife-another woman. After Albert provides Hubert with his back-story, involving being a “bastard” child including orphanages and convents and eventually a brutal rape, Albert decides that “HE” would like to marry a woman and live a “normal” life as well. Albert sets his sights on Helen(Mia Wasikowska), a young maid at the hotel, who Albert fails at first to realize is carrying on a relationship with hotel handyman Joe(Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Johnson). Comedy, illness and(of course) tragedy follow—with the pot-of-gold at the end of this twisted rainbow being that oft-fantasized about tobacco shop. Hands up if you think Albert ever gets to fulfill “his” long-held dream.               Close has used broad strokes in some of her most celebrated performances(“Fatal Attraction”, “Dangerous Liaisons”), so I was very appreciative of her degree of subtlety here. Using a tight, pinched face and stifling her expressions, Glenn’s Albert often barely speaks above a whisper and carries “himself” with a modest dignity. But I get the impression that she’s simply too old for the part in her 60’s—with Mr. Nobbs doddering around like a wizened, creepy little old man. Ms. Close works hard with this approach, but it’s doomed to failure. Questions, I have questions…I mean the whole sexuality thing is never truly explored. It’s basically used as comic relief, and the story and the character deserve better than that. Janet McTeer is good in her more over-the-top role as painter Hubert Page, but again—the whole happily married scenario is thrown out for cheap laughs and left to lie dormant. And the final scene is a cheat, with an unearned attempt at bringing things full circle—this time played for the treacle effect. Are the gals ever fully convincing as men? They have their moments, but I was always fully aware of the size of Janet McTeer’s chest for one thing—breast-binding trick not quite working there. And the hotel is filled with agonizingly familiar stereotypes—and then a typhoid scare sub-plot is thrown in to kill off dead weight and up the ante on the urgency. Maybe Glenn Close will always be on that list of actresses who were oft nominated, but never won the Oscar(this was her first nomination in 23 years). The aforementioned Ms. Lange and Ms. Streep each have two apiece, btw. But shed no tears for Close…she is the winner of 3 Tony Awards, 3 Emmy Awards and a couple of Golden Globes. Nice try, but no cigar(shop), with this underfed “Albert Nobbs”.          Grade:  C-


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