Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Albert Nobbs is a reserved, pleasant little drama featuring a sterling performance by Glenn Close.
It's the 1800s and Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction) is a waiter at an elegant restaurant in a posh Dublin hotel. He's frugal and has been stashing away his money, carefully tracking his expenses and amassing nearly 600 pounds. That's enough for a 100-pound down payment on a shop with plenty left over for some inventory and refurbishments.
Servants have their specific place and lot in life. It's Albert's plan to become his own man, self-sufficient and in pursuit of his bliss. Albert dreams of opening a tobacco shop and finding himself a good wife, much like his friend Hubert (Janet McTeer, Tideland) has done.
"You're a good man, Nobbs," he's told; he does, after all, excel at his job. He's even-tempered and courteous.
But Albert is also holding onto a major secret, one he's been guarding for 30 years.
Albert Nobbs is based on a short story by Irish author George Moore. The title role is something with which Glenn Close is quite familiar. She not only shares screenwriting credit with author John Banville (Mefisto), Gabriella Prekop (Sunshine), and Istvan Szabo (Sunshine), she also played the role 30 years ago in an Off-Broadway production.
That familiarity and dedication to the material carries through to her onscreen performance. It is most certainly the caliber of which Oscars – or, at the very least, Oscar nominations – are made. Close is so immersed in the character and the setting, during the movie's first scenes she is virtually unrecognizable. It takes a while to get used to her far-from-glamorous onscreen persona, and it's at times eerie seeing Close's eyes looking out from behind a male character.
Surrounding herself with a group of trusted colleagues, including director Rodrigo Garcia (the son of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez), with whom she made Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, Close has crafted a chivalrous little movie with a message that speaks to modern audiences.
It's a movie full of respectable craftwork, right on through to Lay Your Head Down, the end credits song by Sinead O'Connor. That song is another aspect of this production that deserves Oscar consideration. So much of this movie does deserve recognition, but in some respects it also feels much like Albert Nobbs himself. It's a noble case of austere storytelling that would perhaps find more open arms in another Hollywood era, perhaps as recent as the '70s or '80s.
That's in no way to slight this movie. It's more a statement about the sad state of today's impatient, Twitter-fed audiences.
Genteel and engaging, Albert Nobbs starts off with a nice buzz of elegance (any movie in which a character utters the word "salubrious" is most certainly following a higher calling), but it's a buzz that leads to a little clumsiness as the story stumbles toward its conclusion.
Hubert (Janet McTeer) and Albert (Glenn Close)
Photo: Roadside Attractions
Yes, the story is about a woman who has lost herself in a man's world, but the story features important themes relevant to contemporary audiences. It's a story about the desperation and survival instinct that drive people to live lives that betray their natural state.
While in pursuit of his new life, Albert latches onto Helen (Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre) as a potential Mrs. Nobbs.
Timing is everything in love, as with life in general. Alas, Helen fancies a bad boy named Joe (Aaron Johnson, Nowhere Boy) and in Albert's own romantic pursuits of Helen Joe doesn't see a threat but rather an opportunity. With dreams of moving to America, Joe encourages Helen to take advantage of Albert and his advances.
The situation is an awkward mix from the get-go. That Mr. Nobbs is one slow mover; they start walking together and Albert is very methodical and considerate in his maneuvers. After all, there should be no kissing until marriage; that's a stark contrast to the much more immediate romantic gratification Helen finds in Joe.
Albert Nobbs stumbles with that romantic triangle and its collateral story elements, but it still manages to land on its feet with the right ending and the right note.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.