Film Review: Close is Oscar nominee in 'Nobbs'

 Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is an unlikely suitor for a pretty young housemaid ( Mia Wasikowska).

Patrick Redmond/Roadside Attractions

Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is an unlikely suitor for a pretty young housemaid ( Mia Wasikowska).

Albert Nobbs is a strange "little man" in an unshowy little movie titled "Albert Nobbs," and I took a shine to them both.

The film should appeal to people who enjoy "Downton Abbey" and other Edwardian period pieces as much for the costumes and decor as for the drama; meanwhile, its tale of painful closeted lifestyles remains highly relevant, a century after the events depicted.

Albert Nobbs is a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Some thirty years after donning men's ...

Rating: R for some sexuality, brief nudity and language

Length: 113 minutes

Released: December 21, 2011 Limited

Cast: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Brendan Gleeson

Director: Rodrigo García

Writer: Glenn Close, John Banville

More info and showtimes »

Based on a 1918 short story by Irish writer George Moore that appeared in a collection titled "Celibate Lives," "Albert Nobbs" arrives in Memphis buoyed by a pair of Oscar nominations for stars Glenn Close and Janet McTeer. Best Actress nominee Close — who first played the role on stage in 1982, and worked to bring the story to the screen as the film's co-producer and co-writer — is the title character, a woman who since age 14 has posed as a man, to earn a living and to avoid sexual violence and exploitation.

As the story opens, Albert is the quiet, odd-looking and "kind little man" who works as a waiter and valet in Dublin's posh and formal Morrison's Hotel in the early 20th century. Almost literally colorless (the movie also has earned a Best Makeup Oscar nomination), Albert has disappeared within "his" male persona, yet still lives in fear of being exposed. He — let's dispense with the quotation marks — squirrels away his meager earnings beneath a floorboard in his small room in the hotel's servants' quarters, and dreams of becoming a tobacconist.

Albert's sexless yet sex-defined world is rocked when he meets brawny, confident Hubert Page (Best Supporting Actress nominee McTeer), a painter who also is a woman disguised as a man — but Hubert's impersonation seems motivated by inclination and desire rather than by fear: It's what we would now call a lifestyle choice. In fact, Hubert even has taken a pretty little wife (Bronagh Gallagher), and the couple's cozy, happy domesticity inspires the utterly naive Albert to begin an inept courtship with a shallow young maid (Mia Wasikowska).

Co-scripted by acclaimed novelist John Banville and directed with calm assurance by Rodrigo Garcia ("Mother and Child"), "Albert Nobbs" makes a passionate if very indirect plea for tolerance and acceptance — for "diversity," to use a much-abused buzzword. Like Albert, the movie dreams of a world in which the impromptu epitaph delivered by the hotel doctor (Brendan Gleeson) might be obsolete: "Dear Jesus, I don't know what makes people live such miserable lives."

"Albert Nobbs" is exclusively at the Malco Studio on the Square.

© 2012 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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