Albert Nobbs is the type of film I knew nothing about going in. I hadn’t seen trailers or any sort of promotional materials beforehand, but everything can be summed up in one simple sentence: Glenn Close is portraying a man. That’s pretty much the entire film in a nutshell. In the early 1900s, Albert Nobbs (Close) disguises herself as a man to be a butler in Dublin at a rather extravagant hotel. She has been hoarding her money like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter and she has some rather elaborate plans for her money; plans that would be a bit more difficult for a woman to pull off. Nobbs is completely content with her facade until she crosses paths with a painter named Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) and eventually craves more of a normal life because of their encounter. Nobbs is in love with Helen (Mia Wasikowska) some of the hotel help, but Helen is in love with Joe (Aaron Johnson) who dreams of taking Helen back to America. Nobbs must choose to either go all in and go for her dreams or continue living a half-hearted existence.
Glenn Close is obviously the heart and soul of the film. The message the film delivers becomes its main objective, but Close helps hand-deliver that message straight to each and every individual in the audience. Her performance is brilliant. Nobbs is a completely reserved individual who’s almost completely devoid of emotion; not because she’s incapable of feeling but because it’s been a part of her charade for so long that it’s kind of become habitual and it’s almost as if she’s forgotten how to feel. Nobbs spends the majority of the film talking to herself and thinking out loud. She is absolutely driven by this dream of hers. Janet McTeer comes along to kind of add a glimmer of hope to Nobbs and her quest; not to mention more than a little mutual understanding. I hadn’t seen Mia Wasikowska in anything other than Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, but this was such a departure from that role. Helen is very outspoken, coldhearted, and completely blinded by love. Aaron Johnson took a rather obscure detour from Kick-Ass, as well. Joe wants nothing more than to get to America that when other obstacles present themselves he basically flips out in frustration. He seems more than willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, but also isn’t afraid to beat any man or woman that gets in his way either.
With the majority of the story focusing on women in drag trying to find a wife, it’s kind of a chore to try and mention anything else positive about the film in comparison because where do you go from there? Most of the film is very charming. Just about anything with Page and Nobbs gives you something to smile about, but the film’s awkwardness becomes kind of charming as well. Nobbs eventually comes back around to her natural roots for one scene in the film and while it should be something to celebrate it’s obviously very weird and unusual for the characters. It’s kind of funny, but Glenn Close has a striking resemblance to Robin Williams in this film. It becomes almost uncanny by the time the film reaches its peak.
As one final note, the set pieces are absolutely fantastic. The atmosphere of the late 19th century is captured to perfection. The film also has some of the most effective use of snow in recent memory. Any scene featuring snow is something you should take note of.
Albert Nobbs is kind of incredible on one hand. The entire cast is filled with nothing but stellar performances, the set pieces are extraordinary, and the story is at the very least rather interesting. Trying to delve further into the film is a bit difficult though. I can guarantee I never would’ve seen this film if I hadn’t been invited to a screening and while I don’t regret attending I feel like a film like this isn’t the reason why I go to the theater. Maybe it’s because it’s about women trying to be independent in the late 19th century, but it just isn’t my type of movie. It’s easy to admire the film’s several strong points such as Glenn Close’s amazing portrayal of Albert Nobbs and the solid script, but at the end of the day it just doesn’t speak to me the way that it should. That doesn’t necessarily mean that either side is to blame just that all films can’t cater to everyone’s tastes all the time; no matter how good or bad they may be.