Judge Brett Cullum is only pretending to be a man; in truth, he is Janet McTeer, who had to act more feminine to pull it off.
We are all disguised as ourselves.
Albert Nobbs is a haunting film that contains a great performance from Glenn Close (Dangerous Liaisons) that won much praise from critics. It was a passion project for the actress ever since she first performed the role on stage in 1982, which was when she decided she wanted to turn it into a feature film. Back then she won an Obie for her portrayal, and thirty years later she was nominated for a Golden Globe as well as an Academy Award. Unfortunately, Glenn was up for Oscar the same year Meryl Streep decided to portray Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, and that all worked out better for Streep. Still, we have this great movie that Close stars in, helped produce, helped write the script for, and even penned lyrics for with the Sinead O'Connor theme song. Albert Nobbs is Glenn Close at her best, doing what she loves. It's a challenging, smart film that has a lot to say about women, survival, and love.
Facts of the Case
Albert Nobbs is the story of a strange little man (Close) who is in fact a woman pretending to be male so that she can survive nineteenth-century Ireland. Albert Nobbs is a waiter and butler in a fancy hotel, and she hides her gender from everyone. But after a run-in with a woman in similar men's shoes (Janet McTeer, Tideland) challenges her beliefs on what her life could be, things begin to change for the tightlipped servant. Albert begins to dream bigger, and she falls for a maid (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) that does not know her secret. A real boy (Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass) comes along and mucks things up further when he starts dating the object of Albert's affection. How can she reconcile being he, and still win the heart of the woman she loves?
It seemed like Albert Nobbs came in and out of theaters quietly, and I hardly noticed until the Academy Award nominations rolled out to include both Close and her costar Janet McTeer. I had a lesbian friend at a dinner tell me that she went to see the film three times inside of two weeks because she found it so fascinating. And so I decided to seek out Albert Nobbs, and I am quite glad I did. It's a quiet character study, but it asks really tough questions about gender and identity that need to be put out into the ether these days. With gay marriage such a hot topic of debate, it is fascinating to roll back the clock and see a woman dreaming of marrying another girl more than a century in our past.
The film is subtle, and really both Close and McTeer never truly look totally like men. I suppose that is part of the point and the beauty of the film that you can never truly hide the woman in the mask. All she can do is try to fool everybody, and only do well enough to let people see what they want to in the process. Glenn Close plays Albert as soft, tightlipped, and wound tighter than a clock. She never lets him loose or free except in one pivotal touching scene where she is allowed to be who she is. McTeer gets to play broader and seems to have more fun chewing the scenery than her costar. Both are remarkable, and they deserved the nominations and praise. These two are the reason to watch Albert Nobbs.
The Blu-ray edition is smartly done with a crisp 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer that captures a good sense of light, dark, and flesh tones, all of which are important to the film and its narrative. A nicely balanced DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track does well too. Extras include deleted scenes which provide some more of the story as well as an insightful commentary track with Glenn Close and director Rodrigo Garcia. My only disappointment with their conversation is that they don't seem to cover too much about why the film was so important to Close to make, nor does she talk extensively about the stage version. It's a nice package that does not differ much from the DVD release in content, only a much stronger picture.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In general the story is so simply told that some audiences are going to have a hard time filling in the blanks. I fear that Albert Nobbs is going to resonate more with gay women than anybody else, because the lesbian community will be able to embrace the struggle more than any other group. Others may be puzzled as to what the big deal is here. The script is so sparse and muted without any extra flourishes, that many will just write this off as a quiet film that has some great acting in it. They may not see the grander themes, and many will ponder over why it was a project Glenn Close fought for thirty years to get made.
Albert Nobbs is a handsomely made period piece that springs from the passions of Glenn Close to never play a safe character ever. She makes the difficult choices as an actress, and here she decides to be a man of his own invention. Along the way she gets to meditate on what love is willing to do, and if any of us are free in any disguise we choose. This is a quiet film that will stick with you, and that's the big charm of it. Marvel at the great performances at its core from Glenn Close and Janet McTeer. The Blu-ray gives you a chance to see it all with a lot more clarity and depth to the image. This is heady stuff that should be great for days like now when gay marriage is debated time and again. If it were up to Albert Nobbs, a person could marry simply for love and survival.
Guilty of being a sincere film about wanting to be anybody but yourself.
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