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'Albert Nobbs' review: Uh, he's clearly a woman

*1/2 (out of four)

In 19th century Ireland, when people apparently can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman, Albert Nobbs (co-writer Glenn Close) works as a waiter in an upscale hotel where no one knows that he’s actually a woman.

That’s strange, because a best-possible performance from Close doesn’t change the fact that Albert always looks like a woman who’s doing a pretty good job of pretending to be a man. (From certain angles, he kinda looks like Robin Williams.) This problem immediately unravels the entire movie, directed by Rodrigo Garcia (“Passengers”) from a short story by George Moore.

Albert’s total lack of savviness also is a sticking point; shouldn’t a woman posing as a man recognize someone else doing the same? Nope, Albert’s shocked when he meets another man who’s obviously a woman. The title character also has so little social awareness that he possesses not an ounce of skepticism about Helen the maid (Mia Wasikowska), who’s actually seeing a new, sleazy hotel employee (Aaron Johnson) but squeezing Albert for gifts whenever they go on chaste walks together.

“Albert Nobbs” tells the story of a woman trying to become a self-made man, but Albert—who sometimes awkwardly voices what he’s thinking out loud—so fails to distinguish between feelings and personal agenda that it’s unclear if his sexuality preceded the ruse or follows his adopted persona. Worse, Garcia presents Albert’s deceit as innocent and Helen’s as manipulative.

Albert expresses curiosity about how Hubert (Janet McTeer), who’s really a woman, married a woman who may or may not have known her partner’s identity before the wedding. That makes two of us.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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