Albert Nobbs struggles to survive in late 19th-century Ireland, where women aren't encouraged to be independent. Posing as a man so she can work as a butler in Dublin's most elegant hotel, Albert meets a handsome painter and looks to escape the lie she has been living.
In 19th century Dublin, Albert Nobbs, an eccentric man in the latter part of middle age, works as a waiter in Morrison's Hotel run by the stingy and controlling Marge Baker. Albert is hard working and saves his money so that one day he will be able to eke out a better life for himself by owning his own business rather than work at the hotel. Beyond his work colleagues, he is all alone in the world. One day, a man named Hubert Page is hired by Mrs. Baker to paint one of the rooms in the hotel. She forces Hubert to share Albert's bed for the one night he is required to stay to complete the work, much to Albert's horror. Hubert discovers the reason Albert did not want to share a room with him. But rather than the issue being a problem, Hubert shows Albert that he can follow a slightly different life path than the one he envisioned for himself - one closer to the life that Hubert leads with his wife Cathleen - which includes getting married and having a wife to support him emotionally. ...Written by
"You don't have to be anything but what you are." Hupert Page (Janet McTeer)
Albert Nobbs is a curious story, perhaps not like anything else you've seen. If you wait until the end, you may love hearing Sinead O'Connor sing "Lay Down Your Head." But in between beginning and end is a performance by Glenn Close as a gender-bending butler in 1890's Dublin to confound critics who use Meryl Streep as their litmus test.
Where Streep infuses her characters with at least a few eccentric affectations, Close's Albert is a fascinating cipher of a woman playing a man so tied up like her corset that she rarely changes expression; her immobile face resembles a plastic-surgery job wound like her too tight, afraid to laugh or cry for fear of pulling her skin down from its moorings behind the ear. The stoicism is, however, not without its oddball charm, as you are unlikely to meet such an introvert, who is rivaled only by Melville's classic Bartleby.
Albert decides to woo young Helen (Mia Wasikowska) to marry him and settle into a tobacco shop, even though he has not told her he is a woman. Albert is helped by another disguised female, Hubert, played Oscar-worthy by Janet McTeer. Although Close, a producer and co-writer, doesn't reveal much about Albert's background and the reason for remaining in disguise other than the difficulty of single women surviving in late nineteenth-century Dublin, McTeer's Hubert satisfies us with background information and a current marriage inspiring Albert to pursue Helen.
The short story and the 1982 play, for which Close as Albert won an Obie, might be warmer and more accessible. Although the film has much of John Huston's The Dead in its set design, Huston's and James Joyce's character development and disclosure are leagues ahead of this minimalist script and sets.
As annoying as Albert is in his privacy, Close's Chaplinesque costuming and minimalist performance won't go away. Watch out, Meryl.
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