“Albert Nobbs” Raises Interesting Issues About Gender and Class

As the film Albert Nobbs only played in my area for about a minute before breezing merrily along, I haven’t yet had the chance to see it. So, for now, I’ll have to settle for reading about it. And for the trailer, of course:

Albert Nobbs has received two significant Women Film Critics Circle Awards. One is for the film itself, “for best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity.” Its material comes from a 1982 theatrical adaptation of a novella (1918) by George Moore, an Irish writer.

The other award is for the film’s main star, Glenn Close, who had also been involved in the play, and who fought long and hard to bring this story to the screen. She won “Courage in Acting,” which is for “taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen.”

In scanning the reviews, it sure wasn’t hard to find puns of a certain ilk. Keep in mind that we know early on that both Albert Nobbs and newfound friend Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) are women pretending to be men in order to have work and income. Peter Debruge, Variety:

Too bad the film is such a drag.

This frequent play on words speaks to both the women-wearing-men’s-clothing aspect and the idea that many viewers find the film to be slow and boring. Could that be due, at least in part, to what’s involved in having to characterize the effects of such lifelong repression? David Edelstein, New York Magazine, about Close’s Albert:

She’s the personification of fear—the fear of being seen through, seen for what she is.

Another frequent theme of Albert Nobbs: that the movie is ultimately unsatisfying in its answers—or lack thereof—to the big questions it raises. As stated by The Opinioness:

Albert Nobbs raises so many thought-provoking questions. Why is the male gender the more “desirable” gender in society? What does it say about a society where half its population has a mere two options for their lives? How can women take charge of their own lives amidst confining gender norms? And therein lies my problem with the film. It provides no conclusions, the answers remain elusive…

And, similarly, Claudia Puig, USA Today:

Though this period drama is meant to be thought-provoking and prompt intriguing queries about gender, it leaves too many questions unanswered.

And, Dana Stevens, Slate:

Albert Nobbs is the portrait of a person with an inner life so inaccessible that even he or she no longer knows what’s going on in there…

the rare double drag king bill you could plausibly take your grandmother to. It’s genteel, well-crafted, mostly sexless and frequently dull—a movie that, like its title character, never quite dares to let itself discover what it really wants to be.

Well. I’m still hoping, despite its flaws, that I’ll actually get to see it in the theater someday. I’m also hoping that when I do, I’ll be able to echo the concluding views of The Opinioness:

The tragic story of Albert Nobbs lingered in my memory long after I left the theatre. Its exploration of female friendship, lesbian love, class and poverty, gender roles and a woman’s self-discovery, truly make it a rare gem.

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