Movie Review: Carol

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A shop girl falls in love with an older woman in New York in the 1950s.

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Todd Haynes, 2015

Dissatisfied shop girl Therese (Rooney Mara) has her life turned around just before Christmas when the ethereal, beautiful Carol (Cate Blanchett) orders a Christmas gift for her daughter from the store where Therese works. Therese is drawn to the older woman, who earns the disapproval of her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) when she starts finding ways to spend time with Therese. Carol finds herself embroiled in a custody battle over her daughter thanks to her supposedly immoral activities with other women, which she tackles with the support of her friend, the bolder Abby (Sarah Paulson). Meanwhile, Therese struggles with her unhappiness about her own life. She longs to be a photographer, but finds it difficult to break free of expectations of her, as well as her conflicted feelings over her attraction to Carol.

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Modelled after the melodramas of the 1950s, a genre director Todd Haynes is familiar with, Carol is an odd movie to be released in 2015. Not content to merely recall its period setting, it’s made very much as though it is a film from the period. From Cate Blanchett’s deep, breathy voice and affected accent to the use of bright splashes of colour (especially red) and the heavy, heady score underpinning the touch of a hand to a shoulder, the film uses tropes that are long since out of fashion to evoke the era. I can see this movie being a film professor’s darling ten years from now; it reminded me so much of movies I did watch during my first year of university that I was immediately in student mode, analysing every piece of information as it came up. Todd Haynes does exhibit some restraint, making the film solid and affecting instead of overly melodramatic, but the references are all there. It’s definitely more of a film of style than substance – plot is thin on the ground, relying on the drama of the romance to pull the story forwards.

Rooney Mara and Sarah Paulson both put in good performances here, but the film rests solidly in the palm of Cate Blanchett’s delicately manicured hand. She commands the screen in every one of her scenes, drawing focus without ever pushing the performance over the top. A lot of her best scenes are with Kyle Chandler; you really feel the weight of their failed relationship. Smartly, Carol – the movie and the character – refuses to make Harge the villain. Instead, the enemy is a society that forces people to repress their humanity. The movie is well-acted, but there’s a stiltedness to the early interactions between Carol and Therese that makes it hard to relate to their relationship at first. There is an undercurrent of attraction that’s played throughout their scenes, but they don’t actually talk about anything for a long time. At one point Therese says that she likes anyone she can really have a conversation with; however, based on their scenes together up until this point, there’s no sense that the two of them can actually open up to each other at all. Repression marks their every moment together in the first half of the film. It takes such a long time to really open the characters up that by the time it does, attention is already in short supply. It’s a good movie, but it lacks the spark to make it a great one.

Carol on IMDb

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