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Movies: Glenn Close in 'Albert Nobbs'

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Glenn Close winning her first Oscar nomination since "Dangerous Liaisons" for "ALBERT NOBBS"

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS

GuestbloggerAlbert Nobbs is story of a woman living as a man in Ireland in the early 20th century. Albert (Oscar nominated Glenn Close) serves as a waiter at a little upscale hotel. His world is so small that he barely leaves the hotel and hardly ever utters full sentences to anyone but himself. Those private conversations generally involve the counting of shillings. Nobbs' inner life isn't quite as small. The waiter dreams of saving up enough to buy a small tobacco shop and run his own little business. When he meets a painter by the name of Mr. Hubert Page (Oscar nominated Janet McTeer) whose situation is not dissimilar but whose emotional life is obviously richer, his eyes are suddenly opened to new possibilities, including romance... or at least cohabitation.  But dreams aren't easy when a flea in your undergarments can give you away, when your career could be finished with one misstep around a wealthy patron, when a stroke of bad luck could put your employer out of business, or when the woman you set your sights on for companionship (Mia Wasikowska) might not have the purest of motives in returning your affection.  

You know what's just as a hard as opening a tobacco shop when you're a woman living as a man in early 20th century Ireland? Getting your dream movie made when you're an actress of a certain age in the early 21st century. 

Glenn Close first played the role of Albert Nobbs on stage in 1982, which was coincidentally her first year in the movies (The World According to Garp). It seems like she's been trying to bring this role to the screen ever since. It only took her thirty years to do it so she's a bit quicker than Albert.

MORE AFTER THE JUMP...

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The movie's opening gambit is a day in the life of Nobbs from first match struck to light the lantern to blowing out the candle after a hard day's work. Simple enough but the bustling hotel is so filled with vivid characters (including Pauline Collins as a flirty hotel manager, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a gay playboy, and Brendan Gleeson as a drunk doctor) you begin to worry. The screenplay by Glenn Close and John Banville which is based on Banville's play which was itself based on a short story by George Moore, isn't big on streamlining for the sake of theme or character and the director Rodrigo Garcia never settles for one tone switching between three (upstairs/downstairs comedy ala Gosford Park, period portrait, and coming out drama of sorts). The movie eventually feels as comically overstuffed as the costuming required to hide Janet McTeer's giant knockers. It needs to be zeroing in on Albert Nobbs's inner life, no matter how meager that life may be. Glenn Close has touching moments but for the most part her character feels impenetrable. Albert doesn't let people in but the actress needed to for maximum effect.

Have you ever been glad that something existed even if you couldn't wholeheartedly recommend it? Albert Nobbs is scattered and frustrating but it's also moving and the kind of story we ought to be told more often. Gay, lesbian and transgendered lives didn't begin with Stonewall and so neither did our stories. 

The waiter and the painter discover each other's secret lives early in the movie. Mr. Nobbs is found out accidentally (a flea in the corset) and filled with terror that Mr. Page will "tell". Mr. Page, far more comfortable in her own skin, merely shows with a shocking gesture aimed to silence Nobbs' whiny fear. It's impossible not to view Albert Nobbs from our modern perspective and as such it's no surprise that Janet McTeer's Mr. Page resonates the most. She is the future, after all, a woman at peace with herself, her sexuality, her body and her ruse.  It doesn't hurt that McTeer makes the most of every line reading, glance, and lopsided smile. Oddly, it's mostly through McTeer's reactive performance as Mr. Page that we begin to understand Mr. Nobbs. Page is as frustrated with Nobbs's fear as some moviegoers may be, but she tries to coax him out of his shell anyway.

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"Well  then, what's your name?" Hubert asks, extending implied friendship.

"Albert," Nobbs whispers.

"What's your real name?"

[pause]

"Albert."  

Hubert Page nods, the faint glimmer of a smile crossing her face. We get it, too, even if Albert himself is still figuring things out. 

Nowadays we have names, labels and initials for everything. Should we choose to affix them, Albert Nobbs gives us ample options of L, G, B or T. Mr. Page and Mr. Nobbs might not have the language for it yet but you don't always need words to come to an understanding. 

***

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. I agree that Close maybe could have given a better glimpse into Albert's inner life, but I loved the movie. Poignant and sad, not unbearably so, and of course of immense interest, and with great characters and actors. Yes, I can heartily recommend it.

    Posted by: Zlick | Jan 27, 2012 7:02:44 PM


  2. Do you ever wonder what the name of the porn spoof for Albert Nobbs will be? I do.

    Posted by: Adam | Jan 27, 2012 7:05:12 PM


  3. I absolutely LOVED this movie! Glenn Close was captivating and the movie was SO well done. I've always liked her, but after this film I became a true fan. She deserves an Oscar.

    Posted by: Geoff M | Jan 27, 2012 7:26:25 PM


  4. Why hasn't Ms Close been glitterbombed by the transpolice yet? Why didn't GLAAD pull a 'Work It' on this?

    Posted by: foobar | Jan 27, 2012 7:44:36 PM


  5. I am so there! I can't wait to see it.

    Posted by: MKe | Jan 27, 2012 7:54:34 PM


  6. This looks way too painful to watch. Yet the praise here gives me pause.

    Posted by: uffda | Jan 27, 2012 8:38:09 PM


  7. I so hope she wins the Oscar. I think the shadow Meryl Streep looms over other, deserving, female actors means that excellent actresses like Glenn Close and Emma Thompson often get overlooked, because there just aren't enough good roles for women 30-50. For women in that range, Meryl Steep seems to be the only choice. For women older, we have Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, all Brits who haven't done plastic surgey and actually look their age. Spread the wealth around, Oscar, and give Glenn a chance. She was robbed not winning for Dangerous Liasions... she totally owned that movie and it's one of my favourites.

    Posted by: graphicjack | Jan 28, 2012 12:28:41 AM


  8. o lordy
    a dyke playin a woman playin a man

    yippe yahoo and yawn....

    Posted by: chytnia | Jan 28, 2012 3:31:35 AM


  9. No offense to Glen, she is an amazing actress but this movie looks like a snoozefest. I would have nominated Elizabeth Olsen for "Martha Marcy May Marlene", an underrated performance.

    Posted by: Gonzo | Jan 28, 2012 3:56:16 AM


  10. I get annoyed every time a see Meryl Streep nominated, I thought well she always wins, then I read her last Oscar win was 30 ago. Glenn Close is a bit creepy looking in this roll, I'll pass.

    Posted by: RobWest | Jan 28, 2012 7:40:46 AM


  11. Wow...People are judging this movie and Glenn Close's role even before seeing it? WOW!
    I am looking forward to this movie... Which deserves a chance for dealing with subjects that won't attract throngs of people who -like some Towleroad readers- will never give it a chance at all...
    =)

    Posted by: George F | Jan 28, 2012 8:36:05 AM


  12. Remember1983"s Yentl sounds so similar.

    Posted by: Vern Dufford | Jan 28, 2012 9:05:54 AM


  13. I saw a screening two weeks ago and most of the audience was laughing at Close's performance. Not in a a closed minded, bigoted way, but the performance and character is so freakin' odd, it's comical.

    Posted by: Yibbet | Jan 28, 2012 9:35:42 AM


  14. Thanks for info

    Posted by: custom term paper | Jan 28, 2012 11:23:12 AM


  15. I thought the first picture was Carson Kressley without makeup.

    Posted by: ger | Jan 28, 2012 12:41:59 PM


  16. I haven't seen it, but clearly this is a movie about a transgender man, in days when people doesn't have access (and couldn't have imagined that it would one day exist, I guess) to hormone therapy etc.

    I just wonder why are people calling the character "a woman passing as a man", like it's some sort of trickery?

    Posted by: G.I. Joe | Jan 28, 2012 1:11:05 PM


  17. Good grief, because there is trickery involved. As Nathaniel made clear, this is a character groping through the dark alone, with no support and no vocabulary to describe his/her own condition. I would have expected criticism to focus on the notion I got from watching that Mt. Nobbs is somewhat fluid and has arrived at his current state without even knowing why.

    Yes Nobbs does have a comical aspect. That is part of the charm.Just go see it, and leave your black and white dichotomies at the door for once.

    Posted by: melvin | Jan 28, 2012 3:24:51 PM


  18. @G.I. Joe
    Women passing as men (and "passing" is a fixed term when it comes to gender) was not uncommon in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of them even married other women. Some of them were probably trans yes, but not all. Some were lesbians, but others simply did it because women were discriminated against. They did it to do things that women couldn't do - including serving in the military.

    I haven't seen the movie yet, but Janet McTeer's character seems to be gay - not trans

    Posted by: Steve | Jan 28, 2012 4:20:47 PM


  19. Close should have won for "Dangerous Liasons"- I saw the overpraised "The Artist"- charming yes but a very lightweight concoction for Oscar worthiness.

    Posted by: jaragon | Jan 28, 2012 9:28:07 PM


  20. I saw this last night & thoroughly enjoyed it.
    One of the aspects I most appreciated was the question left open in the movie as to the true nature of Albert's & Hubert's identities from a modern perspective. There are a couple of scenes which hint that Albert may be passing simply for social reasons (work prospect and another reason I won't reveal here) & still inwardly identify as a woman; at the same time, there's the romance shown in the trailers which suggests that this is not just a straight woman passing in a severely sexist society. Even with the romance, there would remain the question of whether Albert would be a lesbian passing for social reasons, or a transgendered heterosexual FTM.
    Two points which I got from viewing this: firstly, that our modern identities don't necessarily apply across all cultures; and secondly, that part of the mystery of Albert's identity stemmed from Albert's own stunted emotional existence.

    Posted by: toddinsf | Jan 30, 2012 4:04:51 PM


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