Albert Nobbs began life as a short story, written by the great Irish author George Moore in 1918. Moore was a wonderful writer, ahead of his time in many ways, chief among them his descriptions of the lives of adulterers, prostitutes, and your everyday working class as naturalistic protagonists, instead of the Dickensian characters that most readers had grown accustomed to at the time. Moore was extraordinary at infusing life into his characters with nary a wasted word on the page. With that being the case, how could the filmmakers of this adaptation of Nobbs have bungled the job of bringing the story to the screen so grandly?
Albert Nobbs stars Glenn Close (Mars Attacks!) as the titular character, a woman who has been passing herself off as a man to gain employment as a butler for the past thirty years. One night she is forced to share her bedroom with a housepainter named Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a woman who was forced into the same circumstances as Nobbs but managed to create a normal life for herself as a man, even taking a wife. Using Page as inspiration, Nobbs begins courting a young maid (Mia Wasikowska) and makes a deposit on opening her own tobacco shop.
It is difficult to explain just how much work it was to slog through this film. It would be easy to say, “Well, maybe period pieces just aren’t my thing,” but that’s not it; there are plenty of movies set during this time that I love. It’s just…everything about this film is off.
The promotional campaign for Nobbs was built around star Glenn Close, and the fact that bringing this story to the screen was a labor of love for her. Not only is she starring in it, but she also is a co-writer of the script (with John Banville) and a producer. Having first performed the play on stage in 1982 and attempted to bring it to theaters for the past fifteen years, I have to ask, is this really all there is to the character? Close plays Nobbs as someone who doesn’t speak more than is absolutely necessary, which given the times is understood, as it takes a giant leap of faith in the audiences part to believe that no one would look at Nobbs and think, “That’s a lady with short hair and a scratchy voice.” Then, if that isn’t enough, the filmmakers expect us to believe that this mousy woman that is afraid of her own shadow would make a run at a beautiful young coworker (Wasikowska) without considering the consequences of doing so.
I don’t place much of the blame at the director’s feet this time. Rodrigo Garcia has primarily been a director of various HBO series throughout his career, and I’m guessing was out of his element from the moment he stepped foot onto the set of Nobbs. It’s taken for granted that the director is the most powerful person on a crew, but how powerful can you truly be when you are filming the baby of the star/co-writer/producer? No, I’m guessing it only took a couple of suggestions on Garcia’s part before Close exclaimed, “Hey, I’m the star of Damages, I know what I’m doing!”
Albert Nobbs has award prestige all over it, but don’t fall for the hype. Avoid.