Albert Nobbs 

Glenn Close is front-and-center in this gender-bending period drama

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Albert Nobbs

4 Stars
(R)

In a weekend in which the young actress Adepero Oduye (Pariah) displays so much knowingness in her portrayal of a character she’s developed for the last several years, it’s all the more distressing that veteran thespian Glenn Close, starring in a role she’s developed for a few decades, never approaches Oduye’s instinct. Perhaps it’s not quite fair to compare Albert Nobbs, a 19th-century period drama about an Irish male butler (Close) who’s actually a woman, and Pariah, but hey, timing’s a bitch.

As Nobbs, a tightly wound emotional alien who’s been saving money for years in order to open a tobacco shop and retire on the beach, Close bottles up Nobbs’ motivations so much that none of his actions, from courting a mischievous chambermaid (Mia Wasikowska, who steals every scene she appears in) to striking up a friendship with another woman posing as a man, a housepainter named Hubert (Janet McTeer), are remotely understandable. Why would this seemingly asexual man with big dreams ever want to get within 10 feet of Wasikowska’s reckless (and engaged and pregnant) troublemaker? Why doesn’t he ask Hubert the pointers for getting by that he desperately craves?

Ultimately, Albert Nobbs is simply a showcase for Close, who also co-wrote the screenplay, produced and even wrote the lyrics for the closing-credits Sinéad O’Connor song, “Lay Your Head Down.” And with capable direction from cable vet Rodrigo García, it’s hard not to enjoy the period piece for the head-tilting curiosity it is. Still, there’s not much passion in this passion project.

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