Sunday, February 19, 2012

DOUBLE MOVIE REVIEW: The Iron Lady and Albert Nobbs

Two supremely talented, beloved, sixty-something actresses, both made to look uglier by the magic of modern cinematic makeup, and both nominated for Best Actress. (Both films are also nominated for Best Makeup, not surprisingly.) But Meryl Streep and Glenn Close have something else in common this year: both had shining performances in films that didn't quite match the leading ladies' luster. Films where actors have the only high-profile nomination (no picture, director, or screenplay nods) often suffer from this fault, but these are both particularly glaring examples.

The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady
Running Time: 105 minutes
Nominations: 2 (Best Actress: Meryl Streep; Best Makeup)
Availability in the US: Now in Theatres
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity

The Iron Lady follows the life and times of former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher. The film takes place in the present, as Thatcher is slowly fading into old age and dementia, but the bulk of the film's action takes place through flashbacks to Margret's time serving first as a member of Parliament and later as Britain's first female Prime Minister.

At this point, after a record-setting seventeen career acting nominations (since breaking Katharine Hepburn's record of 14 in 2006, it's only her own record Meryl keeps topping), it's getting sort of cliché to talk about how fantastic Meryl's performances are every year. That said, Streep delivers an understated but emotional performance as one of the most-loved (or most-hated, depending on your political bent) figures in 20th century British politics. Unfortunately, Streep's elegant performance is not enough to lift this soporific biopic. The film focuses too much on Thatcher's present mental state and not enough on what viewers care about, her political life. One thing the film does very well, though, is age Streep—who is now 62, but you'd never know it to look at her—to a jowly 87. The Best Makeup contest is a tight one this year, but The Iron Lady has a chance.

As for Meryl's Oscar hopes, the chances aren't what they once were. There was a time in this Oscar race when Meryl was the front-runner, but I suspect that was before most people had seen the entire film. While I'd say it's never wise to count Streep out in Oscar season, that logic really only extends to nominations, as she hasn't won an Academy Award since 1982's Sophie's Choice, and she's had 12 stabs at it. Still, Meryl is still in the race for this one, even if she's no longer the favorite horse.

Grade: B-

Albert Nobbs

Albert Nobbs
Running Time: 113 minutes
Nominations: 3 (Best Actress: Glenn Close; Best Supporting Actress: Janet McTeer; Best Makeup)
Availability in the US: Now in Theatres
MPAA: Rated R for some sexuality, brief nudity and language

A woman living in 19th century Ireland (Glenn Close) poses as a man named Albert Nobbs so she may work as a butler at a posh hotel in Dublin. The charade is carried on for years, but when Nobbs meets a handsome painter (Janet McTeer), she looks to escape the lie she has been living.

Albert Nobbs is not a bad film by any means, but the overall production doesn't quite match up to Close's stunning performance. Glenn Close makes us empathize with the transgender Nobbs even though most of us will never know what it is like to walk in his shoes. As a woman trying to survive in a man's world, Nobbs's decision to pose as a man seems quite logical, as does her eventual realization that she wants more out of life. The film's flaw is most certainly not in its acting but in the screenplay. The film is quite funny at times, but it's never clear that the humor is entirely intentional. The dialogue also leaves much to be desired. The poor writing somewhat mutes the overall impact the film's stand-out performances should have.

Given the rather narrow release of the film and its overall script problems, Albert Nobbs seems unlikely to seriously contend for any Oscars. That said, as I mentioned in my review of The Iron Lady, a talented makeup team should never be counted out. It takes a great deal of skill to take the beautiful Glenn Close and make her into a rather unattractive and awkward-looking man.

Grade: B

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