Review: Albert Nobbs

bill bodkin reviews the Oscar-bait drama starring Glenn Close …

Plot: In 19th century Ireland, a fastidious and introverted waiter Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is more than he seems — he’s actually a woman donning a man’s suit in order to maintain a living and stay out of the poor house. As fate would have it, the arrival of new characters to the hotel turns Albert’s world upside down.

2011 is truly the year of the actor. This award season, we’re hearing more and more buzz about acting awards than we are awards for the films themselves. There’s no picture, outside of The Artist, that has been garnering the mega-hype that films like Avatar, The Social Network, The King’s Speech and The Hurt Locker have in the past two years. No, in 2011, we’re intrigued by all the revered and popular actors and actresses who are going to battling for the golden statuette this winter — Clooney, Pitt, Leo, Streep, Swinton, Williams … and Albert Nobbs’ star Glenn Close.

Yes, when that fateful day comes and the presenter says, “And the Oscar goes to …” it would be a major shock not to see the face of one of the most esteemed actresses of our time, Glenn Close, amongst the nominees. In Albert Nobbs, Close reminds us of just how great of an actress she is. Her performance as the woman hiding in men’s clothing is wonderfully subtle, reserved and heartbreaking. Her gender transformation is so wonderfully done (both through computer and practical effects as well as Close’s mannerisms) that sometimes you forget you’re actually watching Glenn Close, an actress, onscreen but that you’re actually watching an aged British actor with the “Sir” prefix attached to his name. Watching Close in this film is like watching a masterclass in acting — like this is the way you are supposed to act on film.

Yet, it’s only the acting in Albert Nobbs, and only two performances at that (Close and the absolutely terrific Janet McTeer), that we can talk about in a positive light. As a film, Albert Nobbs is teeming with potential but severely lacking in execution. The tone of the film is odd — never quite knowing what type of film it wants to be. It never balances the heavy drama and lighthearted moments properly, it’s heavily titled one way or the other. And even in scenes of high drama, particularly between Kick-Ass‘ Aaron Johnson and Alice In Wonderland;s Mia Wasikowska, they never quite hit the right note. This may be due to uneven editing — leaving in too many moments of awkward silence. The film is also rife with terrific actors like Brendan Gleeson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyer (The Tudors), Brenda Fricker (Home Alone 2, a Best Supporting Actress winner for 1989’s My Left Foot) and Mark Williams (Harry Potter), and yet they are all severely underutilized, underdeveloped and underwritten. And when it comes to pacing, the film rushes through character introductions, comes through a near grinding halt midway through, then completely rushes the finale.

And when the credits roll, you leave the theater thanking the cinema gods for giving the audience such a strong performances from Close and McTeer as the film only seemed to click when these two were onscreen together. Their chemistry was more dynamic than the interactions any of the other characters in the film had.

Albert Nobbs would actually work better as a miniseries on BBC or PBS or in its original form, a stage play. If given more time to develop characters and their relationships, Albert Nobbs could be something special. But as a film, it can only be remembered as the film which Glenn Close showed the world why she is still one of the top actresses in Hollywood.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites