"Albert Nobbs" is a movie that works solely due to the performances of two gifted actresses. There's not a lot to admire regarding the film in terms of writing or craft. The film's success all boils down to the performances from Glenn Close and Janet McTeer. It's not at all surprising that both actresses have already received Oscar nominations for their powerful and convincing portrayals as women pretending to be men.
Close plays the title character, a repressed woman who has been masquerading as a man for a majority of her life to maintain steady waiter jobs. To insure her true identity isn't revealed, she never attempts to engage in romantic or friendly relationships. Her entire life revolves around remaining financially stable by saving every shilling she makes under the floorboard. One night Albert is forced to bunk with a painter named Hubert Page, played by McTeer, who discovers her secret. Albert fears that her life is over. In an ironic turn, however, Mr. Page unbuttons his shirt to reveal he is actually a she as well.
There have been many movies about women dressing up as men to get by in the world, most notably the 1982 comedy "Victor Victoria," starring Julie Andrews. But few films have truly captured what it means to completely give up one's sexual identity. This is a marvelous feat from Close, who never hits a false not as this tragic woman who is constantly on her toes and deeply reclusive. Equally exceptional is McTeer as the more outgoing Mr. Page, who manages to run a steady business and has even found a loving wife.
If "Albert Nobbs" focused only on the dynamic between Close and McTeer, this might have been a next to great movie. Unfortunately, the film is often bogged down by a subplot involving a maid named Helen, played by Mia Wasikowska, and her boyfriend Joe, played by Aaron Johnson. Albert views Helen as someone she can have a partnership with and work together in the tobacco shop she hopes to one day own. Although Helen has no feelings for Albert, Joe convinces her to pursue the relationship so they can get free gifts. This just felt needlessly cruel on behalf of the already tormented Albert and ultimately meandered from the main plot. Helen never really matures into anything more than a shrill brat while Joe awkwardly becomes a villain in the second act of the movie.
Despite its shortcomings, "Albert Nobbs" is still worth seeing for the bold performances from Close and McTeer. They rise above the hit and miss material to deliver two fully realized characters that are hard not to sympathize with. Their moments together are sheer magic, the best of which is when they go out into public wearing dresses to recapture what it was like to be a woman. As an added bonus, this is one drag movie that Adam Sandler is in no way associated with.
Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.