An aspiring photographer develops an intimate relationship with an older woman in 1950s New York.
Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, Kyle Chandler, Carrie Brownstein, John Magaro
Rated: R (a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language)
By Cole Schneider
Todd Haynes’ “Carol” is a 1950s romance about a working class girl, Therese (Rooney Mara), who falls for an older, richer, married woman, Carol (Cate Blanchett). Here are two of the world’s premier actresses doing premier work and supported by lovely, muted production design and dreamy, elegant direction. Every 16mm image is striking even as we find Carol herself to be less beautiful than her fancy wardrobe or charisma imply.
The film may, in fact, seem like a dry costume melodrama, perhaps further drained of energy by an assumed insistence on making a social statement. It’s not. If Carol was a man this would be a super creepy thriller. Instead it’s a lilting, longing romance that draws the audience into Carol’s spell as it draws Therese, and then it blossoms into a tone of loss and alienation.
The textual nature of the script and the cinematic patience of its presentation amalgamate into a poetic portrait of romanticism. This world, once established, allows for a silent hand on the shoulder to say so much more than a line of flowery dialogue from a similar screenplay normally would. A leer through a dirty window can empower the audience to feel an obstructed desire. A doll can become a symbol of static control. A calm Christmas setting can whisper of society’s lacking redemption. “Carol” exists as subtext, even as Carol herself is grandiloquent.
Yes, “Carol” is nuanced and bombastic; simple and complex. It’s melancholic and thrilling; cerebral and deeply felt. It’s cool and warm; evocative and provocative. It’s languid and sweeping; sincere and sensuous. It’s languid and explosive; resolute and seductive. It’s calm and haunting; but more than anything it’s transporting and immersive.
4.5 out of 5 Stars
By Matt Greene
Carol is complicated. Outwardly, it’s a retro-drama about forbidden love between two women in the 1950s. Underneath, it’s looking at the more complex and intriguing world of human connection. It’s sexy yet proper; it’s delicate yet strong; it’s romantic yet haunting; a picturesquely shot period-piece that stuns with its beauty, both visually and aurally (the score is mesmerizing). So with all the technical perfection, why did I find it to be the most critically overrated movie of 2015? Despite its unendingly admirable skill, it left me unsatisfied and, worse yet, emotionally confused.
Mara plays a naïve young woman spellbound and emotionally seduced by Blanchett’s broken and mesmerizing Carol, a woman who seems to have a “There’s-Something-About-Carol”-esque effect on everyone she meets. Both actresses are as phenomenal as you’ve probably heard, but our relationship to them is nearly as frustrating as their relationship is to each other. In a terribly confused bit of story framing, we meet them at the end of their relationship before going back to the beginning, as we watch the sheepishly sweet Mara get emotionally destroyed by the almost predatory Blanchett. This would be fine, except the movie itself doesn’t seem to be wrongly convinced that Carol is ultimately a “good” person, giving her too many chances to plead her selfish case.
Herein lies the complication: despite these flaws, it’s a visually gorgeous and thematically interesting film. Director Haynes creates a hazy atmosphere in his perfect Christmas setting, highlighting the similarities between its titular character and the holiday season’s preposterous promises. Unfortunately these noble positives couldn’t mask my overwhelming sense that Carol was less-than-noble in its own messaging.
2.5 out of 5 Stars