Monday, February 6, 2012

Actress Glenn Close plays man in Albert Nobbs

Albert NobbsCross dressing comes to the fore in Albert Nobbs for a very good reason. It's not a frivolous attempt to be the opposite gender, but Glenn Close’s character of Nobbs is caught in financially downtrodden 19th century Ireland.  As a woman, there is no work for her. She was born a bastard and lived in a convent until she was 15 years old. She was then kicked out to fend for herself. Unfortunately, she was gang raped and brutally assaulted by a group of men. To survive, she decided to masquerade as a man and live as a male to protect herself.

Now wearing a man’s suit and presenting herself to potential employers as a man of skills, she accepts a nice job as a waiter in a respectable hotel in Dublin. Nobody is aware of her true identity, and she plays her emotions close to the chest to avoid any involvements. Close does the usual Hollywood trick of removing all her makeup, chops her hair short, and wears nice cravats and beautifully cut morning coats to complete the effect. Close was born with a natural square jaw, and this helps in her transformation to the look of a man. However, having been a Glenn Close fan for most of her career, all I kept seeing was Glenn Close in reverse drag and pretending to be a man. She instead presents a milquetoast-type character who more or less whispers so that her lady-like voice is not revealed.

Nobbs has become so used to playing a man, that she thinks if she gets engaged and plays footsie with young Mia Wasikowska (Helen), a young downstairs maid at the hotel, she can live a “normal” life as man and wife. That is unless the unsuspecting Wasikowska discovers on their wedding night that there’s no there there. But there is not a danger of that happening because Mia loves the humpy muscular young Aaron Johnson (Joe), a n’er do well who wants to steal Albert’s money and run off to America.

Albert’s secret is revealed to his/her new hotel room-mate, Janet McTeer, who plays a housepainter named Hubert Page. The new room-mate almost doesn’t fit into the tiny space because Page is tall, big, and muscular. Nobbs is shocked to learn that part of that bulk is composed of huge breasts, as Page is also keeping a secret. Honestly, McTeer looks like a butch lesbian playing a man playing a lesbian. However, let’s give credit where it is due and say that McTeer does a marvelous job of acting with her difficult role. The part is not large, but it is impressive.

The pace of the film is near-comatose, with both Close speaking in soft, languid tones and the progression of scenes set at a speed an unconscious person could follow. This can cause the audience to lapse into an induced coma at first, but a good dose of strong coffee or whiff of Ben-Gay can keep one awake. This is not to say that director Rodrigo Garcia hasn’t fashioned a beautifully made film with the help of his set designer and cinematographer. Close was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar®. Roadside Attractions.
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