Albert Nobbs – or Albert’s Knob
Glenn Close takes on the challenging role of playing the titular character in Albert Nobbs. After donning men’s clothing to get a job as a waiter when she was 14, Nobbs finds herself trapped in a prison of corsets and well-placed cucumbers. Working in 19th century Ireland in a small hotel, Nobbs continues to dress as her male alter-ego in order to get by in the harsh times, saving up enough money so she can buy her own business. Think Downton Abbey meets Mrs Doubtfire. Doubtfire Abbey’s Knob, if you like.
There’s also a minor story-arc where Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) starts sleeping with Joe (Aaron Johnson), so Joe decides Helen and he should con Albert into funding their move to America. This storyline is particularly dull because both Joe and Helen are really unlikeable, and so the more of them you see, the more you don’t care at all what happens to them.
I don’t know – I like to think I have a healthy grasp on the portrayal of gender and sexuality within film, but this film really confused me. A lot of the plot is driven by Nobbs wanting to emulate the life of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) – another woman living day-to-day as a man. The difference between Page and Nobbs is that it’s clear Page is a lesbian, and living as a man so that she is able to live openly in a relationship with a woman. With Nobbs, however, there’s this strange ambiguity towards her sexuality, and she sees living as Albert less as opportunistic and more a necessity. There’s also this completely strange addition of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who just kind of gets drunk every so often, and POSSIBLY has sex with men in the hotel? This quite possibly could be a comment on how the wealthy had it easier – rubbing their fabulous homosexual lifestyles in the faces of the lower classes. But honestly, I have no idea.
The film then takes this strange turn where Albert becomes almost obsessed with Helen (who you’ve grown to find irritable) and insists on making her Queen of a Tobacco and sweetmeats store. Slowly, my interest began to wane. And slowly, the film continued. And continued. After a while, Albert’s intentions become confusing – to the point where Albert became unlikeable, and soon there’s really only one or two characters you like in the film.
And then those two die of typhoid.
So you’ve been watching for about three to four days by this point, and you’ve forgotten your own name, and everyone in the film has abandoned attempting the Irish accent, and there’s still more. I don’t know if it’s the pacing, or the scattered way the plot seems to develop, but I can’t say I ever really found myself connecting with the film.
The performances are good, and I can understand why both Close and McTeer are being nominated for various awards – and I think that both Wasikowska and Brendan Gleeson (who plays a minor role as the hotel’s doctor) are outstanding performers. But these performances are lost within the film itself, and in some very heavy-handed direction. There are several points in the film where the direction is laughably awkward. When Helen is confronted with the ugly truth that her beau Joe is exactly what she didn’t want in a man, she cries out to Albert, she proceeds to hit Albert on the chest like a victim in a silent film.
There’s a possibility that they didn’t want to make this one of THOSE films – that directly deals with Queer issues. And because of this, the film doesn’t really deal with any issues; it’s just an incredibly slow drama focusing on a series of terribly unlikeable characters. In my opinion, this is a case of too much Nobbs, not enough balls.
Albert Nobbs will be in released in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day