Glenn Close and Janet McTeer give vastly credible performances as women disguised as men. The novel “The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs” by George Moore has been a project of Ms. Close since she played the lost but dignified “Mr. Nobbs” off Broadway almost thirty years ago; she should be applauded for her tenacity and the actualization of her mission.
But I found the movie colossally problematic. It takes place in Dublin, Ireland in the late 19th century, in a refined, but frayed, Hotel. “Mr. Nobbs” (Ms. Close) is a diminutive, constrained waiter, so entrenched in her male masquerade, that the slightest aberration, untoward gesture could trigger a massive shattering of the vitrine she has entombed her shunned, stunted femininity ; her frigid rigidity is detrimental to the development of her character.
Janet McTeer as “Hubert” the painter is totally mesmerizing and imminently comfortable as a man; every glance, movement, stance resonates mammoth warehouses of testosterone; “he” is the core, the axis of the scenario; his confidence opens a door for Mr. Hobbs and frees him to dream the impossible dream: marriage.
Here is where the film stumbles. Hubert is happily married to a lovely seamstress “Cathleen” (delightful vignette by Bronagh Gallager); Mr. Nobbs fantasizes that a “wife” was the final piece composing a blissful future: owning a tobacco store and living above the establishment in peaceful harmony. Mr. Nobb’s targets the culmination of his matrimonial goal upon the hapless “Helen” (Mia Wasikowska) who is enamored with the feckless, handsome “Joe” (Aaron Johnson) ;their “courting” scenes are awkward, unsuccessful, embarrassing.
Has Mr.Nobbs totally strangled every fiber of “his” sexuality? How naive to quest a relationship bereft of any conjugal communication; Hubert and Cathleen seem to have chosen an intimate course. This vagueness and obfuscation led to confusion and a lack of harmony; perhaps Mr. Nobbs lived in a prison of his own creation for so long that he had squelched every appetite except survival; incapable of giving or inspiring passion. Tragically, he met Hubert too late.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!