Dressing up in drag conjures up imagery of comedic scenarios carried out by dimwitted male figures clothing themselves in floral dresses. Yes, when men get in touch with their softer side (at least visually), it makes for a good laugh at the bioscope but it’s not often that the shoe is put on the other foot – Albert Nobbs does a role reversal and so too does the humour dissipate from the room, replaced by earnest stuffyness.
Masquerading as a man, Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) works as a waiter at an upmarket hotel in Ireland so that she can raise enough money to purchase a small business but fate intervenes and Albert begins to long for female companionship to complete her ruse.
Glenn Close seamlessly transitions into a secretive older gentleman – it’s like watching a master continue to hone their skills with exquisite dexterity. The character that she changes into however is meek, distant, and altogether unlikable despite being the main attraction. The film also lacks substance in its plot, often retracing and revisiting familiar scenes that simply add to the running time. 19th century Ireland has never looked this grim but it suits the characters and the look has the authenticity that the mood carries out so well.
The Bottom Line
In terms of acting, Albert Nobbs is a cut above but it’s an all round unpleasant and often times boring experience that seems to rely on the novelty of cross dressing more than on the strengths of story or characters. The film is a good canvas for Close as a performer but sadly isn’t realised fully and ends up as a depressing look into a woman whose life is filled with dismay and disillusionment and where hope is never quite rewarded.