by Tim Ross
A number of films have explored the psychology of gender identity, most of which have utilized comedy to explore the idea of a man in a dress or a woman posing as a man. Until now, the general exception has been “Boys Don’t Cry,” the film that made Hilary Swank famous and brought her an Oscar. Glenn Close already has the fame and the accolades, but she deserves no less attention than Swank for her turn as the titular character in “Albert Nobbs.”
Albert is a firmly entrenched waiter at a fine Dublin hotel in the late 19th century. He’s quiet, diminutive, well-liked by the wait staff, and is really a woman who has spent decades presenting herself as a man in order to maintain gainful employment. Close inhabits the role completely and her transformation is so compelling that when she ultimately dons a dress, she appears as a man posing as a woman.
The fates of the staff are set apart from the wealthy they serve, but familiar themes of class and privilege are handled with aplomb by director Rodrigo Garcia and Close as actor and writer. Lives are destroyed and forever changed, but always in realistic and subtle ways.
Some of the most poignant moments of the film are uncovered in quiet interactions, making them both surprising and distinctly human. The drama is not played out by actors but revealed by the way the characters connect, and Garcia and Close have assembled a cast to make those connections count.
Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) continues to mature as an actress and special mention has to go to Janet McTeer, who plays an unexpected ally to Albert who also dresses as a man to make her way in the world. McTeer more than holds her own on screen with Close.
“Albert Nobbs” is a textured, intelligent film and Close delivers an amazing performance. Perhaps what makes the film so successful is its spare, engaging plot. Albert’s plight is discovered in one quiet scene and slowly played out over the course of the film. Kudos goes to the screenwriting team as well, and it’s no surprise that Close takes top writing credits. She knows her strengths and they are magnified in a screenplay that wastes no words.
This film has garnered Close an Oscar nomination for “Actress in a Lead Role” and McTeer a nomination for “Actress in a Supporting Role,” and both nominations are well-deserved. See “Albert Nobbs” and I suspect you’ll agree.
Grade: 4 out of 4
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality, brief nudity and language
Cast: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson
Studio: Roadside Attractions