December 30, 2011

MOVIES: Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo Garcia, 2011)

Glenn Close has been trying to get Albert Nobbs made for 30 years, since playing the role in a stage version of the story. It's the story of a woman living as a man in 19th-century Dublin. Albert has been Albert for so long that he doesn't even remember the name he was born with; he took on a male identity in order to survive financially after being orphaned in his early teens.

The movie is beautifully appointed, with lovely sets and costumes, and the period details are spot on. I found that it took a few minutes to adjust to the Irish accents, but eventually got used to it.

The problem with the movie is what I think of "Boys Don't Cry Syndrome." That is, because Glenn Close is not for a second convincing as a man, you leave the movie thinking not so much about Albert's plight as about the fact that everyone else in Dublin is a frickin' idiot for not catching on.

To be sure, Albert Nobbs has a huge advantage over Boys Don't Cry in that Glenn Close, unlike Hilary Swank, can act. As wrong as she is for the role physically, the rest of the performance is excellent. Albert's pain and fear of being discovered are palpable, and his hope of finding a happy ending with one of the hotel's maids (Mia Wasikowska) is contagious, even though we know how unlikely it is.

Doing a much better job with the male drag is Janet McTeer as Hubert, a woman living under similar circumstances. (The sheer coincidence of these two winding up employed by the same Dublin hotel does not bear much scrutiny.) McTeer is very believable as a man, to the extent that in a scene where Albert and Hubert decide (for the first time in many years) to put on dresses, she actually looks like a man in drag.

Not anything you need to rush out and see, but worth catching when it hits cable or Netflix.

No comments: