Monday, 20 February 2012

Albert Nobbs

"Life without decency is unbearable"

Albert Nobbs is not a film about gender identity or inequality. Instead, it is the sad story of a woman that measures happiness in its financial cost. Glenn Close plays the title character, who works as a waiter in a Dublin hotel and has passed as a man for the past ~40 years.

The only thing Nobbs seems to value is money. Not in the caricatured 'swimming in pools of money' way, but she desires nothing more than economic security for herself. She displays her naivete with regards to human relations at every turn, from her surprise when the (clearly (to us) female) Mr. Page (Janet McTeer) reveals that she too 'passes'; to a dream-sequence where she sees herself and Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) owning a tobacconist together. Even in this scene, it's not clear that Nobbs is happy, or knows what it would be like to be happy, instead it seems to follow a life-plan concerned only with reaching the end successfully and not the contents of the journey.

Dawes' partner Joe is basically pimping her out to Nobbs, who is under the impression that the two could lead a similar life to Page & her wife Kathleen, when really she is simply using Nobbs for financial gain - in much the same way that Nobbs views their relationships. All three characters involved in the arc are unlikable in different ways and it's hard to feel sympathy for any of them. After typhoid fever sweeps the country, Nobbs rushes to Page's home to discover Kathleen has died. With all the tact of Scrooge, she suggests that the two move in together immediately so that 'neither of us will have to be alone'. We then have a scene that is either awful or brilliant: the two women wear dresses for the first time in years, and go to the beach. You could either see it as unsuitably comic in the style of Little Britain or as an act of liberation. I'm willing to believe it was intended to be the latter, but neither actor gets it quite right and it bordered on farcical.

Although the character of Nobbs is pathetic, Close's acting is anything but. It's one of the best rounded performances of last year, she seems to get almost everything right and every scene with both Nobbs & Page is excellent, however she's let down by Wasikowska, specifically in their break-up scene towards the end. It was some of the most overacted, melodramatic nonsense I've seen from an otherwise serious film in years and it was appalling. Nobbs doesn't show emotion, they're not really her bag, but Dawes had up till then been a character full of life and not one for restraint.When she rushes back to harangue Nobbs for his harsh words it was utterly wooden and lacking any kind of feeling at all.

Eventually Nobbs can no longer maintain the calm facade and a fight erupts between her, Helen & Joe which leads to her death. Some time later, Mr. Page returns to the hotel to find that Mrs. Baker the owner of the hotel has stolen Nobbs' life savings and that Helen is now a wage slave living under the fear of her son being taken by the church. Page implies that the two of them should marry in order to save the child and perhaps this at least would have made Nobbs happy in the end.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. The money aspect is definitely there, but I'm not entirely sure it is the only thing Nobbs cares about. In a way, it is almost like the only thing he's allowed to care about, given his social station and the fact that he couldn't imagine a personal relationship until after Hubert Page shows up.

    And Welcome to the LAMB!