albert-nobbsA Man’s World

 Albert Nobbs

Stars: Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Brendan Gleeson, Pauline Collins and Aaron Johnson 
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Scriptwriters: Gabriella Prekop, John Banville and Glenn Close from a story by Istvan Szabo
Cinematography: Michael McDonough
Composer: Brian Byrne
Roadside Attractions
Running Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: R for sexual and themed material
Glenn Close dissolves into the person of a male waiter/butler called Albert Nobbs in the film of the same name. Just as Meryl Streep dissolves into Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady, both films could be acting lessons for young actors. Some film critics are calling Close’s performance rather pale, but they are missing the point. Mannerisms, facial expression, pronunciation, clothing, body language---all must be just right all the time if you are to function as a male in a male-dominated society. Margaret Thatcher is a real person, so the audience has someone to visualize, but Albert Nobbs is fictional, so your imagination can have reign as to Nobbs background and staying power in the chosen occupation of a waiter/butler in the latter part of the 19th century in Ireland. Women had little power and little means of earning a living if alone, so they must be creative.
We meet Albert Nobbs as a smaller “man” with slicked back hair, immaculate manners and clothing and a low, soft voice. Eyes not raised and fading into the background when not needed, Nobbs coasts through life like part of the wallpaper. There, but not there. “He” works as a waiter/butler in a small, fashionable hotel where extra money can be earned by keeping your ears and mouth closed.  Years pass and the woman in the costume becomes comfortable in this persona.  Enter a problem with a tall room painter who is hired by the hotel, but, due to lack of space, is asked to share Nobbs' room.  Ever the host, Nobbs insists on sleeping on the floor while the guest has the bed. Eventually, the secret is discovered, but there are other secrets to be discovered and it seems everyone in the hotel has a secret that could get them fired.
Nobbs and the painter become friends and Nobbs reveals that “he” would eventually like to buy a small tobacco shop with a tea room and be “his” own boss. Of course, you know, as soon as a plan is formulated there are problems and Nobbs carefully planned life through many years, starts to unravel through no fault of “his” own. It is an interesting character study of people at this time period, how they react to situations and why they make the decisions they do. All against the backdrop of a busy hotel and the ambience of the 19th century, which is richly shown through costume and decor detail.
Albert Nobbs is a story of survival and of cross-dressing. It’s certainly not easy being a woman in a male-dominated society. If you are going to portray a man, do it convincingly, Close can do it as she did the Nobbs character in a play many years ago. It took me half of this movie before I realized which character was Janet McTeer. Her mannerisms and not-afraid attitude as the room painter are in contrast to Glenn Close’s portrayal of a “man” who doesn't want to be recognized. In their scenes, you see a woman rejoicing to be a man while another is only portraying one to make a living. Cross-dressing for a purpose. Gradually, we hear about their backgrounds and why they came to be at this hotel.  In one scene, they visit the beach. McTeer, clearly uncomfortable, is wearing a dress, while Close, wearing a dress for the first time in years, runs along the beach like a happy child. Freedom for a day is a hard-earned word.
Supporting cast carries the actors characterizations, such as Pauline Collins as the hotel manager who really caters to her guests. Then, there is Mia Wasikowska, a maid at the hotel who befriends Nobbs on a dare from her boyfriend Aaron Johnson, a man that needs money. Gradually, the five characters start to intertwine as we watch the story proceed. The film version of the play is not hampered by obvious scenes, but flows evenly. Both Glenn Close (Best Actress) and Janet McTeer (Best Supporting Actress) have received Oscar nominations.  One can see why.
Copyright 2012 Marie Asner