Albert Nobbs is one of those movies that is automatically supposed to generate Oscar buzz, which, to a certain extent, it did. But once you see it, you realize that the only reason the nominations and critical acclaim rolled in was because it would be impolite to discredit a dramatic film about gender-bending, androgyny, and overall sexual confusion.
Glenn Close, of course, does an excellent job of portraying an awkward and demure woman who has posed as a man since she was fifteen. However, while the acting may be on point in its subtlety, the story itself leaves something to be desired. Working as a waiter at the Morrison Hotel in Ireland, Nobbs' sole concern is with saving every shilling to open up a tobacco shop. With her eye on the prize and not a single person suspecting her secret, everything seems to be going as planned for Nobbs until the hotel's owner, Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins), hires a painter named Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) to touch up the shoddier walls of the hotel. The only problem is, Mrs. Baker insists that Nobbs shares her bed with Mr. Page. Nobbs' secret is now clearly about to be found out.
Rodrigo García's plodding direction suits the pace of the script (co-written by Close and John Banville) quite well, but is, for the most part, sleep-inducing. In fact, the only exciting parts of the film are Jonathan Rhys Meyer's occasional appearances as a hotel guest and the outbreak of typhoid fever throughout the town (one of the many health hazards of 19th century Ireland).
As for Mia Wasikowska in the role of Helen Dawes, the object of Nobbs' quote unquote affection, her skills at playing an asshole are better than one could have hoped. Goaded on by her deadbeat boyfriend, Joe (Aaron Johnson), Helen takes advantage of Nobbs' interest in her by forcing Nobbs to buy her a number of trinkets that will surely prolong Nobbs' goal of buying the store property she wants in order to begin her new life as a tobacconist.
The motive for Nobbs' cross-dressing ways stems from the hardship of finding work as a woman during this particular era, let alone finding work as a man. Because Nobbs is a "bastard," she has to make her own way in the world, which ultimately consisted of switching genders. Still, one can't help but think that more answers about Nobbs' innerworkings can be found in the material that the film was based on, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs by George Moore.
I am also of the firm belief that: 1) The best movie about cross-dressing hijinks is Tootsie (closely followed by Just One Of The Guys), 2) The best movie to watch Glenn Close die in is Fatal Attraction, and 3) Albert Nobbs might have been more watchable if the original casting of Amanda Seyfried and Orlando Bloom as Helen and Joe had stayed in place.