Glenn Close’s prosthetics and clunky scripting make it impossible to emotionally invest in this stilted melodrama.
This thesp-packed 'Downstairs Downstairs' tale of the porters and maids working at a nineteenth century hotel centres on an Oscar-nominated turn from Glenn Close in the role of a woman living life as a man. Commercially friendly it may not be, but from that précis you’d at least be unlikely to assume that what you’re about to watch is going to be dull.
But dull it frequently is. And sometimes risible too. For the rest, it's just dimly uncomfortable. Despite a seasoned cast and the pedigree of director Rodrigo García (though admittedly his best work has been on the small screen, such as Six Feet Under and In Treatment), there’s scarcely a moment of the visually staid, emotionally distancing Albert Nobbs that could be described as enjoyable.
Much of the problem lies with Close’s performance, a stilted, shackled turn that recalls Leonardo DiCaprio during the flash-forward portions of Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, her capacity for facial nuance heavily compromised by the pound of prosthetics she’s plastered in. This creates a character whose tragic plight you intellectually understand, but never emotionally recognise.
But as alienating as Close is in the title role, the peculiarly stagey flourishes in the script (for which she’s not blameless, given her co-writing credit) are perhaps its most damning foible. A repeated device sees her deliver soliloquies to her own reflection, a strange mixture of bald proclamations and rhetorical questions that are too expository to be revealing and too clumsily conceived not to be distracting.
It’s in scenes like this that Garcia’s lack of visual flair is felt – a smart camera can’t save a flat script, but it can at least distract when the flaws are as glaring as this.
The normally riveting Mia Wasikowska gets stuck in a subplot eddy with Aaron Johnson, which is initially superfluous, and later (once it does dovetail into Albert’s story) singularly creepy. One late scene in a park that brings together Close and Wasikowska is likely to remain a contender for the year’s most unintentionally comedic, even as it simultaneously leaves you cringing for all the wrong reasons.
Top-drawer cast and a uniquely compelling story.
Close’s prosthetics and clunky scripting make it impossible to emotionally invest.
At once stilted and melodramatic, this is a desperately ill-conceived adaptation of a fascinating story.