General note: As Albert expresses himself as male in the film, I will use the male pronoun where applicable, even though it is ambiguous if Albert identifies as female or male.
So as I’m not going to be able
to see all the nominees this year or review them before the Oscars, I decided I would try to see the films I wanted to watch the most, with Albert Nobbs
being first on the list. I had heard buzz about Glenn Close’s performance as a woman dressing and working as a male in 19th Century Dublin. Apparently Albert Nobbs
has been a passion project
for Ms. Close since starring in a stage version back in 1982. In addition to starring, Close produced, co-wrote, and co-penned the main song for the film. Her love for Albert, the shy, somewhat awkward waiter clearly shows in her performance. Despite not quite understanding the appeal of Helen Daws, Albert’s prospective wife, and finding scenes or subplots unnecessary, I couldn’t take my eyes off Albert and I wished with all my heart that he would open his little shop and find a wife to work the counter.
One of the things I found moving and subtle about the film is that it’s unclear if Albert is transgender, that is a male with a female body. Or if he is a woman who is so afraid of men after a brutal assault, that living as a transsexual
is safe. Or if he is a savvy person who realizes the gender restrictions that come with being a woman and after living totally alone, realizes that living as a male will help achieve his goals. So is Albert’s interest in the maid Helen purely cultural, living as a male? Or is s/he a lesbian? Or if transgender, a straight male? Unlike Hubert, the painter who discovers his secret and reveals is also a woman living as a male romantically married to another woman, Albert doesn’t seem to fully understand human relationships. He seems almost incomplete as a person, not even considering the issues of gender identity. If fact, the only moment we see pure joy on his face is when he and Hubert dress in women’s clothing and run along the beach. But is the happiness because Albert is dressed as a woman, which he was never allowed to be? Or is it because he always dreamed of being by the ocean? It is actually this scene that I enjoyed the most, because when Hubert and Albert walk out in women’s dress, my fellow theatergoers chittered at how uncomfortable they looked, as they might at men in drag. Except it was women dressing in women’s clothing. But Glenn Close and Janet McTeer, with none of today’s labels or categories, had wholly convinced us that they were men, or more accurately, that they were Albert and Hubert and whatever that meant to them
. In their essence, in their life, in their dress, and in their choices. Perhaps this is problematic to some viewers who expected more of a transgender rights film
, which I can see as valid criticism, as I too wanted to understand how Albert and Hubert identified. But that is my desire for them to express themselves clearly to me. And for a film that is so quiet and subtle, I feel that Albert and Hubert expressed to me what they wanted and nothing more. That’s empowering in its own way.
The Oscars: Best Actress (Glenn Close) and Best Supporting Actress (Janet McTeer)
I’ve not been able to see Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, nor do I think I will be able to before Sunday. She and Viola Davis have been in a two-way race for the wards this season, but I must say, Glenn Close was mesmerizing. It was her best career performance and, I think, my favorite so far this year. Janet McTeer was also wonderful in capturing how different Hubert’s experiences were from those of Albert. Full of bravada and “masculinity” and girth, to Albert’s slightness and timidity and oddness. Hubert is sexual and romantic with his wife, while Albert is unclear of if he should kiss his intended bride. Yet both are women dressed as men, showing how everyone’s experiences can be completely the same and also totally different, defying labels and categorization. Either performance deserves accolades, as they transform the film from niche story to emotionally entrapping.