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Albert Nobbs | Review

As lumpy as the title suggests.

Have you ever shown up for Thanksgiving festivities at a household unaccustomed to food preparation? You know, when it takes an abnormal amount of time to get the food on the table and the turkey carved? If you’ve ever been in that situation and then been treated to a slice of incredibly dry turkey slathered with lumpy gravy powder mixed with water, you’ll know what it’s like to consume Rodrigo Garcia’s latest film, Albert Nobbs. Its star, Glenn Close, has been trying to get this project off the ground for twenty years. She is credited with co-writing the screenplay and producing. And please note she’s worked with Garcia in two very good films he previously helmed. But it’s been a minute since we saw a project that was so highly anticipated, so deliciously intriguing on paper, turn out to be so limp, dry and exhaustingly lifeless on celluloid.

Based on a short story by George Moore, Close plays the titular Nobbs, a woman posing as a male butler in turn of the century Dublin. She has everyone fooled until a handsome painter has to share her room and her long kept identity is threatened. As her relationship with the painter becomes complicated, so does her relationship with a young maid (Mia Wasikowska), who is indiscreetly carrying on with the newly hired handyman (Aaron Johnson). Yes, that’s all a bit vague, but to explain more would spoil some of the surprises. Suffice it to say, all will be revealed…and you’ll most likely see a lot of these twists a mile off.

It’s really a pity. Glenn Close is obviously entrenched in this labor of love and her performance is quite good, if not a tad overwhelming compared to the extremely lackluster supporting cast (with the fine exception of Janet McTeer). Wasikowska and Johnson are saddled with extremely poorly written roles. There’s even a scene where Wasikowska, supposedly upset, very gingerly batters the chest of Glenn Close. It looks like a kitten batting at butterflies. And Close looks so alarmingly strange in her man clothes one could only be distracted. Like a cross between Wendell Corey and Fats, the ventriloquist dummy from Magic (1978), she’s a black hole for the rest of the cast. You can’t look at anything else. Garcia’s direction feels extremely forced as the action crawls along.

This is a director who is excellent at showing us the (sometimes banal) lives of modern women in vignettes, such as in the excellent Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her (2000) or Mother and Child (2009). But, as in the abysmal Passengers(2008), Garcia seems unable to make compelling cinema that sets out to tell a linear story, whether it be set in modern times or this stuttering period piece. But come Oscar time, rest assured Ms. Close’s campaign will be hotter than hellfire singed pokers aiming for someone named Meryl.

Reviewed on September 12 at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – GALA PRESENTATIONS Programme.

114 Mins.

Rating 2 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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