Dir. Rodrigo García. 2011. M18. 114mins. Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Brendan Gleeson.
First published on . Updated on 2 Mar 2012.
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Sitting through star vehicles that have little reason to exist beyond baiting awards has become an annual ritual. But is it really necessary for these movies to be completely inert? Producer-coscripter Glenn Close labored to bring Albert Nobbs to the screen after playing the title role – a butler who passes as a man in 19th-century Dublin – Off Broadway in 1982. Why this character should inspire such passion is a mystery, since the part mostly requires withholding and stern stares. Dialing back her natural intensity, Close gives a one-note performance, speaking quietly and unconvincingly in the most masculine voice she can muster.
We’re told that after being gang-raped in the streets, Albert initially cross-dressed to secure a job as a waiter; she never looked back and managed to make a career at a hotel. Not much happens: At the inn, Albert finds encouragement meeting an incognito fellow traveler (Janet McTeer, registering with slightly more authority than Close) and later pines for a young maid (Mia Wasikowska) who’s clearly interested in Albert for his savings. The perspective on the material is unclear – if there was ever any significant social commentary in this story, or any attempt to make Albert something more than a tragic stick figure, director Rodrigo García (Mother and Child) doesn’t convey it.Ben Kenigsberg