Monday, July 30, 2012

A movie I thought I'd find interesting, but didn't: ALBERT NOBBS starring Glenn Close

Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair's Hollywood Portfolio.

I was looking forward to seeing Glenn Close in this Oscar nominated performance simply because I like her so much. Plus I found the whole idea of a woman passing herself off as a man, especially at that time in history (the setting is Ireland in the early part of the 19th century) - fascinating. Historically, it was, let's face it, an economically viable solution. There were few good jobs (or even bad ones) to be had for women and survival depended on your wits and willingness to adapt to circumstances. 

Albert Nobbs is a natty, quietly reserved employee of a hotel in Dublin which caters to the rich and lively. In contrast, Nobbs might just as well be invisible which is the basic problem - the character does practically disappear into the woodwork.

Besides Glenn Close's controlled performance, there's that of Janet McTeer as a rough and rugged man who also (coincidence of coincidences) happens to be a woman in disguise. She is remarkable and was also nominated for an Oscar. The make-up is incredibly good as is the photography. 

Both women had to learn to move like men and they did - which couldn't have been easy in and of itself. If I recommend the film at all, it is just to watch these two actresses go about their business.

But other than that, there's not much else to recommend. The story is dulls-ville and the ending is 'meh.'  Never once, in out gut, do we really care about these characters, nor are we really moved to wonder about them. Not much really happens and despite the efforts of Close and McTeer, the film is a disappointment.

It's a shame because Glenn Close has been working on this project for years, trying to get the money and backing and whatnot to get the film done. But as so often happens when someone works on a labor of love for ages, the end result can show fatigue. The film-makers took an intriguing idea with many possibilities and gave it too much reverence.

Here's a link to a well-written review for the film at Critic Studio, and one with which I basically agree - though their reviewer liked the film more than I did.


  1. Hello Yvette:
    We were most interested to read this post as we have toyed for some time with seeing 'Albert Nobbs' but, having come across very mixed reviews, have never quite got around to it. From what you say here, we think that, finally, we shall abandon it altogether.

    Sometimes, as you write, something which is a labour of love does not necessarily convert into a commercial success.

  2. I like these actors but was not motivated enough to see this movie.

    It reminds me that my paternal grandmother and her sister, both daughters of Irish immigrants, dressed as men on a lark and went into downtown Jamaica, Queens one fine day.

    They were both arrested. This was the 1920s. It was illegal for women to dress as men!

    Times have changed as far as the law goes, but I'm not sure it's socially acceptable in every state and city.

  3. I, too, thought I would like this film more than I did. You are right, it was a dull film about an interesting character who became less interesting as the film wore on and on and on...

  4. I think you've touched on a critical point, which is that for a movie to be successful, one almost always has to have some feelings (god or bad) for the characters. I didn't think much of George Clooney's "Generations" because I didn't care for any of the characters.

  5. Yes, exactly, Jane and Lance. A 'labor of love' should be looked at with suspicion, most especially because the creator is usually blind to its faults.

  6. Kathy: Well, we know that many women did successfully masquerade as men and fought in wars and did their best to get by. It's no secret.

    But it's not handled very successfully in this well meaning but essentially dull film.

  7. Naomi, yes, I agree. It's really a shame because the movie could have been something really special.

  8. Mark, I'm not a big fan of Clooney so I wouldn't have seen GENERATIONS anyway, but I definitely agree with your point. Somebody in the film has to be likable, and if not likable, at least intriguing and interesting.

  9. Vanity projects, IMO, never come to any good. They are often far too personal and that deep attachment the actor/writer/director has for the work rarely ever translates to anything that can be universal. That she took so long to get this on film and released to the public only serves to underscore my theory. She did the play back in 1982! I bet this was so much better on stage. I saw a few clips and I thought it one big "zzzzz" and so I never bothered with it.

  10. You and I are in agreement again, John. But even so, I wanted to like it just because of its history and the fact that it was Glenn Close.

    But to no avail.


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