Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

How Glenn Close's Cross-Dressing Performance In "Albert Nobbs" Makes the Movie

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire December 20, 2011 at 11:15AM

"Albert Nobbs" was a longtime passion project for Glenn Close, and it's easy to see why. Adapting George Moore's 1927 short story "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs," about a Victorian-era Dublin woman who spends decades disguised as a man to find work, Close--co-producer, co-screenwriter and star--portrays the lead character with a conviction best described as chameleonesque. With her trim, masculine hair cut and robotic gaze, Close inhabits Nobbs' paranoid existence with the full weight of women's oppression bearing down on her. She is the movie. The rest of the material simply can't keep up. Director Rodrigo García capably guides a mannered screenplay with extreme restraint, sometimes to the detriment of the immensely sad plot at its center. As with his previous film, "Mother and Child," García holds fast to the story's tragic, morose aspect from start to finish; it simply explores the main scenario without following through on it. As the movie begins, Nobbs has spent some 30 years working as a butler for Irish aristocracy, dutifully keeping her employers' happy during the day and counting pennies after dark. She shows no outward dissatisfaction with her state, instead displaying a cold matter-of-factness that makes Close's performance off-putting from the outset. Into her world arrives a traveling painter named Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a gruff, manly caller at the house where Nobbs works, and whose actual identity as a woman might only seem obvious to contemporary eyes. (We'll allow it.) Forced to share a bed with the stranger, Nobbs struggles to hide her secret and fails, causing her to freak out until Page shares her own hidden gender. Their ensuing friendship forms the backbone of the narrative, with the confident, settled Page helping Nobbs construct a strategy for improving her ruse. She takes a series of cues from Page, who manages to maintain the appearance of a happily married man without living in servitude. By comparison, Nobbs' world has her petrified at every waking moment. Her dreams of asserting authority over her situation provide "Albert Nobbs" with intrigue, but it's short-lived. Needless to say, her attempts at wooing a fellow houseworker (Mia Wasikowska) trapped in a relationship with a disgruntled young man (Aaron Johnson) prove more difficult than Nobbs' fantasies led her to believe. With these flawed shots at seduction, "Albert Nobbs" opens up to explore other problematic temperaments of the era, particularly the way ageism and disdain for the working class stymied attempts to rise up the ranks. However, no matter how fascinating these issues get, Close's screenplay (co-written by John Banville) provides little in the way of backstory for its troubled protagonist, causing the symbolic nature of the performance to overwhelm the prospects of investing too heavily in her predicament. Still, it's a radical enough maneuver for a long-established actress like Close to take on this role that it generally dominates the experience. In another movie, McTeer would steal the show with her proto-feminist exuberance, but Close exists in a class of her own. It's no less of an accomplished performance than Hilary Swank's similar turn in "Boys Don't Cry" or newcomer Zoé Herán's delicate achievement as the lead in "Tomboy." Unfortunately, "Albert Nobbs" traps Close's sizable talent in a simplistic drama--not unlike Nobbs herself who winds up trapped in a restrictive period. While the storytelling lags, "Albert Nobbs" nevertheless succeeds as a profound chronicle of hardship. At least Close gets that much right.   Criticwire grade: B HOW WILL IT PLAY? Since it first screened at Telluride and Toronto earlier this year, "Albert Nobbs" has received mixed reactions due to its combination of an underwhelming plot and top-notch performance. As a result, the film seems unlikely to perform especially strong when Roadside Attractions opens it in limited release this Friday, but it may gain some awards season traction for Close herself.
3
Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs."
Roadside Attractions Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs."

"Albert Nobbs" was a longtime passion project for Glenn Close, and it's easy to see why. Adapting George Moore's 1927 short story "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs," about a Victorian-era Dublin woman who spends decades disguised as a man to find work, Close--co-producer, co-screenwriter and star--portrays the lead character with a conviction best described as chameleonesque. With her trim, masculine hair cut and robotic gaze, Close inhabits Nobbs' paranoid existence with the full weight of women's oppression bearing down on her. She is the movie.

The rest of the material simply can't keep up. Director Rodrigo García capably guides a mannered screenplay with extreme restraint, sometimes to the detriment of the immensely sad plot at its center. As with his previous film, "Mother and Child," García holds fast to the story's tragic, morose aspect from start to finish; it simply explores the main scenario without following through on it.

As the movie begins, Nobbs has spent some 30 years working as a butler for Irish aristocracy, dutifully keeping her employers' happy during the day and counting pennies after dark. She shows no outward dissatisfaction with her state, instead displaying a cold matter-of-factness that makes Close's performance off-putting from the outset. Into her world arrives a traveling painter named Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a gruff, manly caller at the house where Nobbs works, and whose actual identity as a woman might only seem obvious to contemporary eyes. (We'll allow it.)

Forced to share a bed with the stranger, Nobbs struggles to hide her secret and fails, causing her to freak out until Page shares her own hidden gender. Their ensuing friendship forms the backbone of the narrative, with the confident, settled Page helping Nobbs construct a strategy for improving her ruse. She takes a series of cues from Page, who manages to maintain the appearance of a happily married man without living in servitude. By comparison, Nobbs' world has her petrified at every waking moment. Her dreams of asserting authority over her situation provide "Albert Nobbs" with intrigue, but it's short-lived.

Needless to say, her attempts at wooing a fellow houseworker (Mia Wasikowska) trapped in a relationship with a disgruntled young man (Aaron Johnson) prove more difficult than Nobbs' fantasies led her to believe. With these flawed shots at seduction, "Albert Nobbs" opens up to explore other problematic temperaments of the era, particularly the way ageism and disdain for the working class stymied attempts to rise up the ranks. However, no matter how fascinating these issues get, Close's screenplay (co-written by John Banville) provides little in the way of backstory for its troubled protagonist, causing the symbolic nature of the performance to overwhelm the prospects of investing too heavily in her predicament.

Still, it's a radical enough maneuver for a long-established actress like Close to take on this role that it generally dominates the experience. In another movie, McTeer would steal the show with her proto-feminist exuberance, but Close exists in a class of her own. It's no less of an accomplished performance than Hilary Swank's similar turn in "Boys Don't Cry" or newcomer Zoé Herán's delicate achievement as the lead in "Tomboy." Unfortunately, "Albert Nobbs" traps Close's sizable talent in a simplistic drama--not unlike Nobbs herself who winds up trapped in a restrictive period. While the storytelling lags, "Albert Nobbs" nevertheless succeeds as a profound chronicle of hardship. At least Close gets that much right.  

Criticwire grade: B

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Since it first screened at Telluride and Toronto earlier this year, "Albert Nobbs" has received mixed reactions due to its combination of an underwhelming plot and top-notch performance. As a result, the film seems unlikely to perform especially strong when Roadside Attractions opens it in limited release this Friday, but it may gain some awards season traction for Close herself.

This article is related to: Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs, Reviews, Janet McTeer, Roadside Attractions, Telluride Film Festival






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More