Film Review: Carol

Carol is a beautiful little love story that feels a bit too one-sided. Still, it has impeccable direction and exquisite acting at every turn; first and foremost from Rooney Mara.

The titular Carol is a 1950’s housewife whose marriage is on the verge of collapse. Carol lives in the constraints of a heteronormative society, her husband has looked past at least one of her lesbian affairs and he isn’t ready to let their marriage end. When Carol meets Therese, a NYC department store shop girl, things start to get really messy, as Carol’s daughter is dragged right into the middle of the divorce proceedings.

All of that plot was about Carol, but the film is really more of a coming of age story for Therese. With a boyfriend dying to pull the trigger on marriage, Therese finds herself uninterested, as she is told by supposed friends that she should, “be more interested in people.” It’s when Therese sees Carol for the first time that she might finally know what love is and the film starts to show us the dance between the women as they court each other in a society that doesn’t support them.

Carol is supposed to be a love story between these two women, and in the end that’s what it is, and it works, but I can’t help but feel like it could have worked a bit better. I want these two together in the end, but only Therese’s side of the romance worked 100% on me. There’s a reason I talk so much about Carol’s plot above, because it felt like it got a bit too much of the film’s focus. I didn’t know what we were supposed to think about Carol and her true feelings towards Therese. Which might be the point, as the film is often from Therese’s perspective, but I didn’t know Carol’s feelings until you’re supposed to know, which I found that a bit unexpected. I get spending time with Carol’s domestic struggles so we don’t think she is some heartless mother, but I feel like we needed a bit more time with her and Therese; not Carol and her lawyer.

As I’m writing this out I feel a bit silly, maybe the film was working exactly as it was supposed to, but Carol comes across a bit too opaque for my liking when it comes to Therese. I know exactly how Carol feels about everything but Therese. Not knowing how Carol feels would be thrilling if the film was all from the perspective of a worrying Therese, but we get to see Carol’s side when the two aren’t together so I don’t know why I feel so in the dark most of the film. Their time together is wonderful though, but the film has me always waiting for the other shoe to drop on their relationship. I don’t know, maybe watching the film and knowing how it all shakes out will allow the ending to play with even more emotion than it already did.

Enough with the nit picks, because in the end I was moved. And I was moved because of the great work by the actors involved. Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler deliver the two supporting parts that are worth mentioning, with Chandler, as Carol’s husband Harge (what kind of name is that?), deserving a ton of praise for giving us a complex character in only a couple of brief scenes. He could easily be portrayed a the evil husband, but the guy’s got some serious emotional scars and Chandler wears all the wounds. Paulson is great because we totally buy into her relationship with Carol, as her longtime friend and ex-lover Abby. Again, screen time is limited, but Paulson is always believable and I wish we got more of her.

Now on to our lovely leads, with Cate Blanchett playing Carol as well as you’ve come to expect from her. Yes, I think her part could have been a bit more clear for a supposed romance, but Blanchett still plays all the sides we do get to see of Carol with great skill. The looks she gives in this movie, just keep an eye on her face at all times. Maybe that face is where I should trust that Carol was showing all of her feelings for Therese all along. Speaking of Therese, Rooney Mara is the best thing about Carol, in a role that will be tough to top for her. She shows so much growth in Therese over the course of the film, you rarely see a character evolve like this in one picture; or even a few. And none of the changes are big scenes or blatant moments, she just evolves before your eyes with an ease rarely seen. The two women are also electric when they are together. Another clue that I should probably be able to buy into Carol’s feeling more, but for some reason I couldn’t.

Todd Haynes’ direction is also reason enough to see the film, as every frame is pretty much perfect. The shot construction, the pans, the framing, his work is never showy, but it will knock your socks off all the same. The only thing I had a problem with was the handling of a potboiler element to the plot that never feels entirely earned. It seemed out of place in this wonderful romance that’s unfolding on the screen, as the “wedge” between Carol and Therese is the only thing that feels forced in the picture. Maybe we should blame the source material/script for that, not Haynes, but it was the clear weak point of the film’s narrative and he didn’t do anything to shape it up. Not a weak point is the film’s perfect production design, which transports you back to the 50’s seamlessly. Only a couple of shots require a lot of background to be manipulated, and it’s wonderful, but the costumes and sets nail the era’s look to the finest detail.

Carol really is exquisite in many ways. I might have some miniscule issue with it, I might just need to see it again, but either way Carol is well worth your time. For Mara, Blanchett and another great bit of direction from Todd Haynes.

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