I love films that ask the questions, “How far would you go?” and “Would you ever?” It’s often that a movie can ask such questions yet rarely do they do it well. ‘Albert Nobbs’ does pose these very questions, but are they answered.
This labour of love project is spearheaded by Glen Close, who played the title character on stage 30 years ago, and has now co-written and produced the big screen adaptation. At its helm is director Rodrigo Garcia ('Mother and Child') and co-stars Janet McTeer, Brendan Gleeson, Aaron Johnson and Australia’s own Mia Wasikowska.
It’s the story of a woman living and working in a modest hotel in 19th Century Dublin. She has disguised herself as a man for the better part of her life as a survival mechanism against poverty (and what we later find out, unwanted and at times aggressive sexual attention). Mild mannered Nobbs' life suddenly takes a turn when she encounters Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a painter who also happens to be in a similar situation to Albert.
The reasons behind Albert’s lifestyle is merely brushed upon, yet their idea is something the audience constantly has to hold on to in order to empathise with and understand her actions - not an easy task. The films' characters lack any true emotion. Even Albert Nobbs herself, portrayed with a quiet elegance by Close, is so intent on lying low and being unobtrusive that her desire to be almost invisible to those around her starts to work on the audience as well - the exception being Janet McTeer; her performance as Mr Page, the fellow gender-bender Nobbs befriends and uses as a mentor, is spectacular. However, Page chooses to embrace the advantages her male persona has given her, including taking a wife. Nobbs’ lack of social and self understanding when it comes to the romantic side of life leaves her almost awestruck at the idea that she too could do the same. Seeing this as more of a business arrangement then the pursuit of genuine affection, Albert approaches maid Helen (Wasikowska) to “walk out” with her in an attempt to woo a life partner. This delves Nobbs further into her own guise as a man with no foreseeable way out.
This film is subtle and thought-provoking, yet character motivations are unclear, leaving the audience wanting and less than engaged.
Solid performances by the large ensemble cast make up for some of the lacking areas in the film. Close and McTeer are almost guaranteed to pick up many award nominations throughout the season including the Academy Awards.