Albert Nobbs. It is scheduled to open in theaters everywhere on January 27th.
Based on a short story that Close adapted into a play nearly 20 years ago, the movie's title character is the head servant in an upper-class, Irish guest house during the 19th century. Nobbs is respected by the headmistress (played by Brenda Fricker) and admired by the hotel's clientele, but Nobbs has a secret: he is really a she. Having begun cross-dressing as a young woman in the wake of a brutal attack, Nobbs has effectively led a male life for 30 years and dreams of one day opening "his" own tobacco shop.
Things begin to unravel, however, once Nobbs crosses paths with a hired handyman who also turns out to be a woman (Janet McTeer, giving a great, Oscar-worthy performance of her own). As Nobbs gets to know her and increasingly admires her marriage to another woman, Nobbs feels inspired to make romantic overtures to another servant in his household, the lovely young Helen (Mia Wasikowska). Alas, Helen only has eyes for attractive, impetuous Joe (Aaron Johnson), who soon gets her pregnant. Trouble for Nobbs and all concerned follows.
Close is startlingly convincing in terms of her physical appearance, voice and mannerisms. Though Nobbs is considered less than masculine by many of his co-workers, no one questions his/her gender. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) also appears as a closeted gay man who frequents the hotel. As good as the performances are, I found the screenplay and Rodrigo Garcia's direction tonally inconsistent. The unusual premise seems to be played at some moments for laughs and at other times with heavy-handed solemnity. This kept me from admiring Albert Nobbs completely.
This year's Oscar race for Best Actress is shaping up to be a tough one, with Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Viola Davis (The Help) likely among Close's competitors. As Albert Nobbs would probably say, "May the best man (woman) win!"
Reverend's Rating: B
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.