Albert Nobbs (2011)
Albert Nobbs is an adapted stage-play about the lives and hardships of lesbian cross-dressers in Dublin at the turn of the previous century; one is Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close), our level-headed protagonist who passes as a male waiter at a renowned hotel, the other is Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a visitor who upon discovering Albert's secret reveals that she shares the same one. Hubert's outward personality and bold embrace of her own self-created persona inspires the naïve and unassuming Albert to pursue her own dreams.
Glenn Close first played the title character on stage in 1982, and has reportedly tried to make it into a film ever since, something which reminded me of Robert Duvall's determination to make the brilliant magnum opus The Apostle. Such passion for a character is rare nowadays in this business, and when actors of Close's or Duvall's pedigree put this kind of effort into one, this passion can shine through and embody the whole performance. Albert Nobbs is such a character, and although it is a remarkably restrained one for a lead, Close embodies a well of contained emotions which each and every one seep through in smaller or larger portions as the film progresses. Albert has spent her entire life holding back her feelings and arguably denying her real identity, and so it is that she has a somewhat childlike world-view, even though she's more professional and conscientious than most men in her circle. One of the things I liked the most with Close's performance and the character of Albert Nobbs was the complexity of how she perceived her own sexuality; a complete assuredness in her own persona as a man, but still almost oblivious to her own sexual desires.
Close's co-actress Janet McTeer has remarked that there were a lot of gay people living their lives the way portrayed in Albert Nobbs, and when you think about it, that seems perfectly reasonable. It was the only option they had for living fulfilling lives, and McTeer's Hubert Page has made the most of that option. McTeer's performance is, if possible, even better than Close's, because it feels almost frighteningly authentic. Her manly manners, confidently puffing away on her cigarette while giving beautiful women small sexy glances could have fooled anyone. And unlike Albert, Hubert has abundances of social confidence; she is unashamed by the life she's living, but simply claims her right to go after what she wants - much like any man around her.
On a character level Albert Nobbs is immensely rich and full of interesting aspects. As a dramatization, however, it is not quite as tight as one could have hoped. The film has retained a somewhat too stagey nature in the sense that some of the supporting roles almost act as fillers, and the romance between Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson, while well-acted and effective enough on a separate level, still comes off as something of a plot device. Perhaps exactly because of Albert Nobbs' reclusive nature, the film requires a little more effort from the viewer than your average period piece. And it may not be as rewarding either, because the film never tries to win cheap emotional points; it is all about telling an earnest personal story.