Published Feb 02, 2012It's a bit of a cliché that every time a mainstream actor or actress portrays a member of the opposite sex or homosexual in a prestige drama, they immediately receive accolades and award nominations, assuming their performance isn't abysmal. This suggests the obvious about our collective cultural ideologue, wherein externalized performance and dramatic physical difference are valued more so than subtlety of character or complexity because they're more easily interpreted and overt.
That's not to say that Glenn Close's portrayal of the titular Albert Nobbs (a female hotel waiter in 19th Century Ireland posing as a man) isn't nuanced in its own way, despite being severely limited by prosthetics that leave her face motionless for the entire movie. It's just that if she wasn't wearing the make-up, her off-putting portrayal of a weirdly solipsistic drag king obsessed with taking a wife and opening a tobacco shop would blend in with the many other impressive performances throughout 2011.
Similarly, Albert Nobbs as a film is more intriguing in theory than in actuality, working as a competent drama about female subjugation and repression, but never quite finding an emotional centre to make it anything more. It has the potential, with Albert meeting a woman with a similar disposition (Janet McTeer) that has taken a wife giving her advice on how to fulfil her dreams in the shadows. But director Rodrigo Garcia is more preoccupied with framing lingering close-ups of Glenn Close's kick-ass make-up job than developing a sincere thematic trajectory.
Also problematic are some of the character motivations. Albert spends half of the movie wooing the young maid, Helen (Mia Wasikowska), with promises of financial stability, even though Helen is completely unaware of the gender predicament. This gives everything a pseudo-predatory vibe that's completely underplayed by a persistent focus on presumed good intentions.
These misfires and miscalculations leave us with a film that looks good on the surface, having professional establishing shots of 19th Century set design and intricate costumes, but lacks cohesion when you scratch beneath. (eOne)