November and December are the busiest months out of the year for reviewers who take part in film critics’ associations. We not only have to screen all the current releases, we also have to cram in every notable film we missed over the year, as well as upcoming awards contenders. Add that on top of a healthy amount of Blu-rays for reviewing and it’s hard to fit in something that you want to watch, as opposed to something you have to watch. If a screener shows up in the mail, you have to watch it. And that’s how I first came to hear about ‘Albert Nobbs’.
When I opened the envelope containing the awards screener, I looked at the case and thought, “Wow. Glenn Close is looking rather man-ish these days.” Not until I popped in the disc did I learn that the movie is actually about a woman pretending to be a man.
Set in the UK during the 19th Century, ‘Albert Nobbs’ follows a woman (Close) who passes as the titular male character in order to survive in a society where it would be nearly impossible for an aging single woman to make enough money to open her own business. “Albert” has the dream of owning a little shop and has almost enough money saved up to open it. Unfortunately, by making a new friend, her plans are thrown off.
When her boss hires a painter named Hubert, Albert learns that she’s not the only woman living this gender-bending secret life. Hubert, too, is really female. For the first time in her life, Albert has someone to open up to about her thirty-year damning secret. To keep her gender under wraps, Hubert has married a woman so that no one would question her. Upon hearing this idea, Albert believes that she must follow in those same footsteps. So, she tries courting a young naïve co-worker (Mia Wasikowska). Albert’s life savings and plans are thrown awry by this new idea.
If you’ve seen the trailer for ‘Albert Nobbs’, the film is made to look like a quirky period drama. In reality, it’s a slow-moving, always serious sludgefest that constantly expects you to write-off unbelievable elements. For example, both Albert and Hubert definitely have manly looks, but neither is passable for a man. Before it’s even revealed that Hubert is a woman, you know that she is, simply because she looks like one. Expecting us to believe that not a single character in the film would notice this is asking too much.
But the biggest problem about ‘Albert Nobbs’ is that you simply don’t care about anything – not the characters, the dichotomies they’re placed in, nor the troubles they face. The story is weightless, which disconnects the audience from the entire picture.
Unless there’s a power outage across all the land and the only theater running on a back-up generator is playing ‘Albert Nobbs’, I wouldn’t bother seeing it. While the film isn’t terrible, it simply doesn’t do anything or go anywhere. There are a lot of better movie options out there to see this time of year.