A passion project 15 years in the making, Albert Nobbs is, not surprisingly, most effective as a vehicle for its star, producer and (novice) writer, Glenn Close. Camouflaged, but not buried, beneath layers of latex and makeup, she plays a 19th-century Dubliner who's spent decades dressed as a man to gain decent employment. As a hotel waiter whose disguise proscribes any submission to, or even acknowledgment of, bodily pleasure, Close's Albert inevitably recalls Anthony Hopkins' buttoned-down butler in The Remains of the Day, but director Rodrigo Garcia opts for historical squalor rather than period gauze.
The streets of Dublin are filled with muck as well as the shambling bodies of the less fortunate, underscoring the dire necessity of her charade. As writer and actor, Close makes Albert implausibly naive, convinced that marriage to Mia Wasikowska's chambermaid will set her life aright, but her asexual innocence is offset by the presence of Janet McTeer's lusty workman, a fellow cross-dresser who fully embodies both masculine and feminine. (She's married to a woman, and though it’s never made explicit, you get the sense their union is more than a matter of convenience.) The film's tone of unrelieved melancholy wears thin over the distance, and Close can't keep the character from seemingly like a pitiable doormat, but the tears come nonetheless.