The rather conventional plot doesn’t help matters either. Deliberately paced, we remain a step or two ahead of the story at all times. As it unfolds we’re rarely if ever intrigued; rather, we’re often waiting for each inevitable turn. The lack of narrative ingenuity is what ends up making everything else not work (despite a level of handsome craftsmanship that any good period piece requires). Indeed, if the story could’ve surprised us then suspending disbelief would’ve been possible.

A side story of two young lovers on the hotel staff fails as an interesting tangential alternative because we predictably know how it will intersect with the primary Nobbs storyline: a love triangle (of sorts) will come to bear, with the poor young lady caught in the middle (Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre) unaware that she’s deciding between a man and a woman.

If played as a comedy-of-errors/social satire it actually might have worked, but the burdensome weight of self-import barely leaves room for even a laugh. What we’re left with is a very blasé agenda film, along with two Oscar-nominated performances—Close for Actress, McTeer for Supporting—that feel as if they’ve only earned Academy voters’ sympathies. And its tender non-preachy tone—one of the movie’s best attributes—is harshly undercut in the end when a minor character is posited as a Christian bigot just so that our protagonists can openly vent about pious hypocrisy.

To best appreciate how this all falls short, a simple comparison can be made. In attempting a similar transgender conceit, The Crying Game legitimately fooled and shocked audiences twenty years ago. Albert Nobbs isn’t fooling or shocking anyone, and it never will.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Alcohol is consumed, but no drunkenness.
  • Language/Profanity: Three uses of the f-word. The Lord’s name is taken in vain twice.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: In one scene, the top half of breasts/nipples are exposed. In another scene, full breasts are exposed. A man performs oral sex on a clothed woman. A man and woman passionately kiss. A man and woman lie in bed together; he is shirtless. Two women kiss.
  • Violence: Two physical altercations/fights.