Movie Review: Albert Nobbs

By Stephen Rebello

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Glenn Close stars as a gender-bender hotel butler-waiter in Albert Nobbs.


Director: Rodrigo Garcia

Rating: R

Studio: Roadside Attractions

“Dear Jesus, I don’t know why everyone has to have such miserable lives,” observes the wonderful Brendan Gleeson as a rueful, wise, boozy doctor in Albert Nobbs, the story of a gender-bender hotel butler-waiter living a life of quiet desperation in 19th-century Dublin.

There’s plenty of misery in the muted, affecting film directed by Rodrigo Garcia but, happily, there is also lots of spark, nuance and humor. Glenn Close plays a woman forced by economic and social circumstances, and the crushing constraints of Victorian life, to almost become invisible while living her life as a man.

As the pinched, ever-wary, heartbreaking Nobbs, Close gives a tricky, high wire, award-worthy performance yet she commendably resists any temptation to be showy, campy or spectacular in the least. She may not be convincing as a man even for a second but she is so immersed in her odd, improbable character that it’s hard to take your eyes off her.

She is matched by Janet McTeer’s extraordinary turn as a house painter and jack-of-all-trades who is also masquerading as man but, unlike the self-denying Albert, living happily and committedly in secret with another woman. Mia Wasikowska plays a cheeky, avaricious hotel maid with an itch for a rascally, selfish opportunist played by Aaron Johnson. But the asocial, awkward Nobbs seals his fate by becoming so infatuated with the maid that he deludes himself into fantasizing about her as his possible life mate and work partner.

It’s easy to see why Close has been trying for a well over a decade to get the pet project made. She is superb in it and, even when the movie strains credibility, she makes a banquet of the sad, meager yet admirable life of a very odd, pitiable individual.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interviews and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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