I don’t understand how anything could’ve beaten Albert Nobbs for best makeup at the Academy Awards. In fact, I don’t understand how Glenn Close could be nominated at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards and walk away empty handed for her portrayal of a male servant in the film. But now you can watch the film at home, in high definition, and decide for yourself if it’s worthy of accolades.
Nobbs (Close) is a servant who has passed for years as a man, to the point where she considers herself a he. It does come out that she was brutalized as a teenager by a gang of men, and we can easily see where the transition to “manhood” would come into play. Why not take on the role when that is where the protection, and the finances, were, against the fear of being brutalized again?
So Albert Nobbs is the story of fear, power, friendship, and lost chances. As one character prays/remarks later, “Dear God, why do they live such miserable lives?” Nobbs life is pretty miserable; she finds one other woman passing herself off as a man and “befriends” him/her, but otherwise, her secret is kept until death. So her/his life is lived in fear of being found out, and the dark world of being ignored or mistreated as a servant.
It seems that Nobbs has found a potential partner in Helen (Mia Wasikowska), another servant, but she is merely using her feminine wiles (unwillingly) to get to Nobbs’ money on behalf of fellow servant Joe (Aaron Johnson), who dreams of escaping to America. It’s a love triangle of sorts, but it’s also a tragic one as you’d expect, with unrequited love, mixed intentions, and violence playing a role along the way.
In the end, I was struck by Nobbs’ inability to free herself, to be herself. Still, her death stands as a freedom for others, providing them the opportunity to be who they were supposed to be, by her/his example and intrusion into their “safe” lives. It’s not a great movie, not necessarily even entertaining, but it’s definitely thought-provoking, and Close’s portrayal deserved better.