Are you kidding, Glenn? This is your passion project? Really?
The film Albert Nobbs — a cross-dressing version of the Masterpiece success Downton Abbey — features Glenn Close dressed as a man the entire movie, often in a crazy looking bowler hat and tie. She plays the title character, a gay 19th century Irish woman who passes as a man so she can work as a waiter. I’ll bet confused waiters all over the world are racing off to check the movie listings even as we speak.
Close’s look and performance are so bizarre that my daughter who attended the screening with me expressed her fear after the film that she’s going to have nightmares about the character’s unsettling trance-like stare. But the voting members of the film Academy gave Close an Oscar nomination.
I’m with my daughter. I just thought it was creepy and weird in the same way an evil clown is, and I didn’t think people would have believed this odd creation as a man for five minutes, let alone thirty years in turn-of-the-century Dublin. There’s a little kid in the film who sees Nobbs and is apparently the only person who realizes there is something strange and not-quite-right about him. Huh? Anybody not heavily sedated would see it, except in a movie that requires us to believe otherwise. No matter how many people wax poetic about Close’s performance, I’m just never going to get with that particular program.
But what do I know? My friend Josh, upon learning I’d seen Albert Nobbs, proclaimed his love of the film and looked at me like I was just plain silly for not understanding what a great job Close had done. He also raved about another female actor playing a man in a different film — Gwyneth Paltrow, who did the sex-swap in Shakespeare in Love. Yes, Paltrow won the Best Actress Oscar for the role back in 1998, and no, I didn’t buy that one either. Take a look at that picture above. Seriously, who would believe that facial hair?
A year later, in 1999, the Academy did it again, giving the Oscar to Hilary Swank for her role in Boys Don’t Cry. Of all the women you see in our little montage, Swank’s was the only performance that was credible. I actually think the way she came across was sufficiently ambiguous to have worked. That is so difficult and so rare.
I never for one second bought Barbara Streisand in Yentl, nor Julie Andrews in Victor, Victoria, nor Keira Knightly in Pirates of the Caribbean. Then there’s Angelina Jolie (picture, right middle) who managed in Salt to look neither like a man nor like herself. (Then again, they were all equally credible or incredible, not to mention probably more appealing to either sex, than either Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot.)
Besides, part of the fun of seeing great looking actresses on screen is, well, they’re great looking actresses. What’s the point of having them dress up as men? If you’re into that kind of thing there are plenty of places to go to see live performances, at least in Los Angeles. On the big screen, the effect is just wrong. This will probably elicit howls of outrage and comments of scorn for this post which, while humbling to a writer’s opinion, is also the gold standard of the Internet these days, so it’ll be a split decision here at The Smack.
To use some Nobbsian-era speak here, in for a penny, in for a pound, so here goes.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to cheer for Glenn Close to get an Oscar for this passion project of hers, especially in a year when everyone who’s not talking about Viola Davis’ standout performance in The Help is wondering how long Meryl Streep will have to wait for her next statuette. She’s been nominated a record seventeen times but has only won twice, the last time thirty years ago. You think you’ll ever see Meryl taping her boobs down to go pandering for Oscar votes? Uh-uh. Not gonna happen, because she knows that viewers not completely grounded and comfortable with their own sexuality might possibly pop a fuse and go haywire. A power such as Streep’s must be used only for good.
Luckily for us — I mean them, not us, why would I say us when I clearly mean them? — the Best Actress field is too packed this year for Close and her vacant-looking Nobbs to have a chance. If she does actually win, it would probably tell us more about the Academy members than they’re willing to divulge. We suspect that many of them are, in fact, emotionally twisted in ways that are probably best made the subject of another post at another time.
Let’s just put it this way. Here is your Moment of Zen, a picture of Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs kissing Mia Wasikowska as Helen. Look at Mia’s expression. Study it. This is how I feel about this performance and this entire movie.