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Albert Nobbs—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
January 27, 2012 1:00 AM
6 Comments
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I’m delighted that Glenn Close and Janet McTeer have earned Oscar nominations for their work in this striking and memorable film, but it would be a shame if all people talked about were their performances, great as they are. Albert Nobbs is a first-rate film in every respect. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the work of director Rodrigo Garcia, one of the most talented—and underrated—filmmakers working today. (I wish more people had seen his last feature, the 2010 release Mother and Child, which like all his films puts the spotlight on interesting women.)

Patrick Redmond

Albert Nobbs takes us back in time to the late 19th century, and a shabby-genteel residential hotel in Dublin. The atmosphere is ripe, as the establishment is populated by colorful characters, including the self-important proprietress (Pauline Collins), a well-mannered if alcoholic doctor-in-residence (Brendan Gleeson) and various servants, including the very proper butler Mr. Nobbs. Albert is conscientious but quiet, and keeps to himself: that’s because he is, in fact, a woman. Over the course of the film we discover how and why an impoverished girl decided that her best chance of survival was to masquerade as a man.

Matthew Mungle’s makeup design for Glenn Close is extraordinarily subtle. The actress’ performance is perfectly in tune with her character, tightly controlled and completely credible.

Patrick Redmond

The supporting cast is perfectly chosen. Mia Wasikowska is just right as the young, flirtatious housemaid who’s hoping to be swept off her feet by a dashing, wealthy hotel guest. Instead she falls in with a rough young fellow (Aaron Johnson) who joins the staff and exploits her, as well as Nobbs. But it’s the great stage actress Janet McTeer who turns the movie on its ear in a daring and difficult characterization that I choose not to describe, in the hope that you haven’t had all of its surprises revealed to you elsewhere.

Albert Nobbs was made on a tight budget, but it doesn’t show. Patrizia von Brandenstein’s pleasing production design focuses on the hotel and its surrounding neighborhood and never calls attention to itself. One can almost smell the odors of working-class Dublin in the Victorian era.

Close earned an Obie performance when she first played Albert Nobbs off-Broadway thirty years ago. She has dreamed of bringing it to the screen ever since, and has actively worked for fifteen years to make that a reality. (She is one of the film’s producers, shares screenplay credit with John Banville and Gabriella Prekop, and co-wrote the song sung over the closing credits by Sinéad O’Connor.) Too often, the well-meaning artists behind long-gestating “personal projects” lose themselves along the way, but not this time. Glenn Close has every reason to be proud of Albert Nobbs and the work of her inspired collaborators.

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6 Comments

  • GRASSA | March 25, 2012 2:41 PMReply

    I just adored this movie , a complete and genuine , delightful surprise !!

  • Patrick M. Gouin | February 27, 2012 12:18 PMReply

    If there was a story to be told in this film, I didn’t get it. While watching I heard echos of Lynch’s the Elephant-man. Resemblance if any would be in the tone. The era is similar and the focus is on an outcast also. The depiction of Ireland in the late 19th century with its decency veneer and gross hypocrisy is as good as it gets. The character of Nobbs, the simple little man is summed when he says: «a life without decency would be unbearable». The irony is the misery of Nobbs’ life in order to maintain this so-called decency. But Nobbs is a bore and all around him is even less interesting. The redeeming factor is Glenn Close who shows us once again the magnitude of her towering talent in an intense portrayal of this little man, which makes us almost forget that Nobbs is a transvestite. But the lack of subtlety in the script doesn’t let us forget it, with constant visual reminders. There was material here for a great film, but the script goes in every direction mostly into inconsequential storylines. Too bad!

  • Joanna | February 8, 2012 3:48 AMReply

    What a delight to read your insightful review. For those who are "tuned in", this movie gives a clearer picture of the classism of the time than even "Upstairs, Downstairs" did. I saw "Albert" a week ago, and I can't stop thinking about it. I don't think I've ever encountered Janet McTeer before, and her performance simply blew me away. I'm sorry that other reviewers can't get past the fact that they know from the get go that Albert is a woman. Of course they know - it's Glenn Close for heaven's sake! This movie is a gem that I'm afraid many people will miss because of the negative reviews. I, for one, hope eventually to own it on DVD so I can watch it several more times. I really appreciate the poignancy that was achieved without becoming maudlin.

  • Michael | February 1, 2012 8:32 AMReply

    Thanks, Mr. M. for this review. I reviewed "Albert" for The Playlist in September after its screening at Telluride and had felt a little lonely. Unlike some other critics, we seem to have watched the same film. My review:
    http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/telluride_11_review_albert_nobbs_glenn_close_mia_wasikowska

  • MC | January 28, 2012 1:17 PMReply

    Dear Mr. Maltin,
    I saw "Albert Nobbs" yesterday and was absolutely blown away. I came home and read some reviews and was totally shocked by the degree to which the reviewers didn't get the whole thing---one even referred to Albert as an Englishwoman!. Therefore, it was with joy that I read YOUR review. Thanks for paying attention andgiving this movie the accolades it so rightly deserved.

  • Natalie Drury | January 27, 2012 3:54 AMReply

    Both actresses deserve awards for this film,

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