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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Albert Nobbs

May 14th, 2012

Albert Nobbs - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Albert Nobbs was made to win awards. I don't think it is a stretch to make that claim. It was released in late December, it is a period piece, it gives its lead a daring role to play. However, while it was made to win awards, its record during Awards Season was mixed. It did pick up a number of major nominations, mostly for the performances by Glenn Close and Janet McTeer. However, it came up empty handed during awards night. Did the movie deserve to do better? Or was it a couple good performances in an otherwise mediocre movie?

The Movie

Glenn Close stars as the titular Albert Nobbs, a waiter at the Morrison's Hotel. He's known for his care and diligence around the customers, as well as his lack of a social life outside of work. He doesn't even socialize with his co-workers. He has squirreled away a lot of money, possibly every tip he's ever gotten. He's gotten very comfortable in his life, but that could change when Hubart Page comes to work at the hotel.

Hubart is there just to paint a couple rooms and will only be there a night and a day. Albert's boss, Mrs. Baker, tells Albert that Hubert will be staying in his room for the night. This mortifies Albert, because Albert has a secret. He is a she. Albert Nobbs has been pretending to be a man for decades and she knows that if her secret is revealed, she will be fired and she'll spend her days in the poorhouse. Her worst fears do come true when Hubart discovers her secret that night. He promises not to tell Mrs. Backer, but Albert is still terrified that her secret is out and no matter how many times Hubart says he won't tell, Albert is still afraid. That is until Hubart shows Albert a secret of his own. Hubart is also a she. The pair get to talking and Hubart shares her story, which involves an abusive husband... and a new wife.

The thought of a wife gives Albert a new purpose. But she still has a lot of questions.

At the same time as Hubart Page arrives at the Morrison's Hotel, so does Joe Mackins. At first he is mistaken as the man from the plumbers there to fix the boiler. Since he was just fired from the Adelaine and has had no success in finding a new job, he doesn't correct the mistaken right away. He talks his way into at least trying to fix the boiler, and when he succeeds, he's hired on as a handy man. He's a charming young man and it isn't long before he's got the attention of Helen Dawes, one of the maids at Morrison's. He wins her over not only with his charms, but with talk of taking her to America where they can start afresh.

However, Albert also has eyes for Helen. He wants to buy a small shop and turn it into a Tobacconist and live with Helen above their shop. At first, Helen has no interest in going out with Albert, but Joe encourages her to lead Albert on and at least get him to buy her things. He seems completely unconcerned about Mr. Nobbs' feelings, or even Helen's, just as long as he can get Albert to pay for their way to America. He's more than willing to "pimp out" Helen to get what he wants.

And thus begins one of the more depressing love triangles you'll see. (And it's not just the love triangle that is depressing, but that's getting far too far into spoiler territory.)

This film reminds me of The Iron Lady. That movie featured a great central performance and some strong supporting performances, but overall was flawed. The same is true here. Both Glenn Close and Janet McTeer deserve all of the praise that has been given to them for their performances. I'm not at all surprised they picked up so many nominations. Glenn Close's performance is excellent; she really conveyed how Albert Nobbs was forced to live a closed-off, isolated life in order to protect her secret. However, as a character, Albert Nobbs was too distant to be the central focus of the movie. Its hard to get close enough to Albert Nobbs to be emotionally drawn into her plight. It is hard, but Glenn Close pulls it off, mostly.

On the other hand, the Albert - Helen - Joe love triangle didn't work for me. I didn't care about the Helen - Joe side of the equation, while I was never naïve enough to think the Albert - Helen side would have a happy ending, so when, and this is a MAJOR SPOILER, so when Albert Nobbs died, I wasn't shocked. I was saddened, but not shocked. Happiness was never in the cards for that character.

The Extras

The are not a lot of extras on the DVD. Things start off with an audio commentary track with Glenn Close and Rodrigo García, who directed. Glenn Close has been associated with this story for 30 years, so she certainly has a lot to say about it and the track is definitely worth listening to. On the other hand, the 8 minutes of deleted scenes are not as engaging. I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but there are no exclusive extras, while it costs just 25% more. That's a reasonable deal.

The Verdict

Albert Nobbs is worth checking out for the central performances, but the central story doesn't have a lot of replay value. Additionally, the DVD and the Blu-ray don't have a lot of extras. Call it a solid rental / soft purchase.

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