Albert Nobbs

Last Updated: April 23, 2012By Tags: , , ,

Boring can sometimes be edifying.

Boring can be dependable, safe, and everything you (may) want in a spouse.

You can learn things from boring.

In a world of artificial excitement, boring can be —

O.K., who are we kidding? Boring is boring. I don’t like using “boring” as a criticism for a film. It’s not a very precise analytical term. But sometimes you have to call a spade a spade and a bore a bore. In the case of Albert Nobbs, boring is boring, and boring is deadly.

To make amends for my “boring” violation, I am going to make an offering and contribute a term to the film critic lexicon and the English language; that term is undermugging.

Mugging, of course, is the tendency of actors to take it too far, to rid e their emotions to full gallop, to launch a navy with tears. Undermugging is the proclivity to overdo subtlety, to underplay a role with flamboyant silence, to bury the emotion so deep down that even the worms can’t tell whether you’re still alive.

Subtlety is the default position of the actor patrol. Under-emoting is automatically assumed to be better than overemoting. The more-with-less mentality penetrates the psyche of thousands of acting workshops. Yet does it really work on an onscreen canvas that’s larger than life?

Glenn Close will be widely praised for her subtle work in Albert Nobbs, as the eponymous Irish woman surviving the nineteenth century disguised as a male waiter.  Her performance nevertheless seems to be a classic case of undermugging (if one can have a classic case of something I just invented.) While I admire her willingness to take on such a tranquil and solemn role, the result is understated understatedness, which has a strange way of looking and feeling like dormancy. She isn’t alone. Aside from Janet McTeer, who has moments as a cross-dressing painter, the film has the needle in the audience’s arm and is pumping the same poison.

Films like Albert Nobbs often skate with critics. If it seems literary it can’t be too bad. This time I couldn’t issue the gentleman’s “C,” or three stars because, good and mature intentions aside, Albert Nobbs was one of the worst filmgoing experiences of my year.

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