Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Movie with Abe: Albert Nobbs

Albert Nobbs
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Released December 21, 2011

It’s always intriguing when an actor or actress plays a character of a different gender, or, in this case, a character masquerading as someone of a different gender. An enticing premise, like the story of Albert Nobbs, a woman posing as a quiet, unassuming male waiter and butler in Ireland in the 1800s, doesn’t necessarily mean that the ensuing film will be interesting. The notion of Albert’s false existence is far more appealing than the story of his portrayer, which fails to be lively or dynamic, with mostly unenergetic supporting players and a surprisingly generic and uncreative plot.

Most of “Albert Nobbs” takes place within the confines of a hotel, where the insufferable Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins) directs a staff of employees to cater to the luxurious tastes of her establishment’s clientele. Albert has managed to fly under the radar for years, barely speaking but always doing exactly as he is told, never arousing any suspicion until the arrival of another man with the same secret, revealed shortly after his first appearance, throws him for a loop. Albert begins to unravel, murmuring to himself about the possibilities of finding himself a wife and opening a tobacco shop, dreaming about finally being free to live the live he has been suppressing for so long.

The presentation of Albert’s story leaves much to be desired, as Albert, fascinating a character as he could be, isn’t nearly as enthralling as might be expected. Glenn Close delivers a careful, calculated performance, which is impressive if not terribly engaging. The film is most watchable when Janet McTeer appears on screen, as painter Hubert Page, who, like Albert, is not who he purports to be. McTeer adds considerable comedy to a film that is often lighter than it initially appears to be, thanks to the comic hijinks of Mrs. Baker’s management style and some of her less suave employees. Mia Wasikowska is left with little to do as the young and attractive Helen, who catches Albert’s eye as a potential wife but ignores him to be with deadbeat bad boy Joe Macken, a throwaway role played by Aaron Johnson. That particular subplot is dull and hopelessly trite, and it diminishes the impact of Albert’s search for companionship. Like its title character, the film rarely gives in to emotion or lets its characters lose control, turning an original concept into a dense and inaccessible run-of-the-mill doomed love story.


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