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
Albert Nobbs is a labor of love. Glenn Close, who stars in the titular role, has been connected with this material for nearly 20 years, playing the same role on stage in 1982. For years she tried to get the production to the big screen, and after a long wait her efforts have put forth a brilliant film. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (In Treatment), this film tells the story of Albert, an Irish waiter at a hotel. The trouble is she has been portraying herself as a man for 30 years. She has become encased in her mindset of Albert Nobbs that she doesn't know her true self anymore. She must do whatever it takes to get by, even if it means keeping her secret to the grave.
She befriends a local painter, Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), only Hubert isn't all that he says he is either. With Hubert's friendship, Albert sees that what he needs is a wife. He attempts to court another maid at the hotel, Helen (by Mia Wasikowska), only she has taken a shine to Joe (Aaron Johnson), the new handyman. It's sometimes painful to see the lengths that Albert goes to for Helen, but Albert it so pure in his thinking and kind of heart that we want him to get the girl no matter what.
What makes Albert Nobbs so special is Close's performance. Close truly fits the part. There is something in her eyes that makes you really believe that the woman in Albert is only what he keeps hidden under his clothes. All the rest is a man. Close makes us believe that Albert sees himself as a man only just a little different. We see a fragile man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means sucking up to the harsh and vulgar members of high society.
The supporting cast around Close is fantastic as well. McTeer really shines as Albert's only true friend. I would look for both Close and McTeer to be in contention come this Oscar night. Wasikowska and Johnson look great for their respective parts, playing them with honesty. Another accent to the cast is Brendan Gleeson as the local doctor. He adds a touch of sensibility to the entitled of the day. He likes a good, stiff drink (or three) and finds himself comfortable in the company of those considered lower than him.
Gleeson's character brings up a great quality to the film. I am astonished at how much of a commentary of 19th century life is put into the film. I would say most of the first act is setting up the world they live in and periodic references and characters enter the second and third acts to remind us of the time period this story is taking place. Albert Nobbs is in fact a reflection of what it was like to live back then. In order to make a decent living one had to be a man, otherwise find someone to live off of.
It's a heartbreaking story that will really hit home. Albert on the surface is a simple man, but underneath lies a wealth of feeling, confusion, and love. The film ends with the beautiful song "Lay Your Head Down" with lyrics by Close herself, music by Brian Byrne, and sung by Sinead O'Connor. It reminded me of "Into the West" by Annie Lennox, the Oscar winning song from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. This song from Albert is somber, sweet, and plays like a lullaby. I think it's safe to say that is exactly what it is; a lullaby for Albert, a character whose life has been so strenuous and tiresome.
The more I think about it the more I love this film. Great performances, great characters, and a perfect time period to be placed in. The song is the icing on the cake (and probably has the best shot at winning come Oscar night). It looks like Meryl Streep is all but a lock for Best Actress, but we shall see what happens. Who knows, maybe Albert will gain momentum coming down the homestretch. I hope it does.
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