Sunday, December 27, 2015

Movie Review: "Carol"

Therese Belivet (a wide-eyed Rooney Mara) is a clerk at a New York City department store in the 1950s. She's not really certain what she wants out of her life, but knows there's more to offer than a job she doesn't really care for, and her earnest boyfriend, who keeps trying to convince her to go on a European trip with him.

When Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a New Jersey housewife, sweeps into her department, her glamour and attitude immediately captivate Therese, nearly leaving her at a loss for words. But when Carol leaves her gloves at the store, Therese sees it as an opportunity to once again interact with this woman who has inexplicably fascinated her in ways she had never imagined possible.

The two strike up a friendship of sorts, and it is soon clear that both are smitten with each other. While this has happened before to Carol, Therese can't seem to explain it, although for the most part she is willing to let Carol take the lead. But Carol's decision to pursue this relationship comes at great peril to her family—her soon-to-be ex-husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), has filed a petition for sole custody of their young daughter due to a "morality clause." Carol must face the dilemma of whether to follow her heart or allow herself to be "cured" so she can spend time with her daughter. This leaves Therese, who had never imagined herself in this position in the first place, in emotional limbo, as well as uncertainty about the other facets of her life as well.

Blanchett is absolutely dazzling as a woman whose public bravado masks deep vulnerability and fear. As she tells a friend who says she hopes Carol knows what she's doing in getting involved with a younger woman like Therese, Carol replies, "I never did." While she has the same speech patterns as her character in Blue Jasmine, this isn't a woman putting on airs or reinventing herself—this is a woman who is trying to play the role expected of her but her heart keeps getting in the way.

My only exposure to Mara's talent was in her Oscar-nominated turn in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so to see her play someone reasonably subdued and timid at first, but whose courage awakens with her heart, was a true revelation. In this film, Mara has a clean-scrubbed freshness, similar to Audrey Hepburn's in Roman Holiday, and her eyes are so tremendously expressive, so they provide a dimension beyond her dialogue. Both Blanchett and Mara are immensely deserving of Oscar nominations. As Carol's former girlfriend and confidante, Sarah Paulson does a terrific job with her small-yet-pivotal role. While Chandler gets to play the heavy, he does bring more emotional depth to his character, a man who knows his wife was probably going through the motions but he continues to love her anyway.

Carol is beautifully filmed with exquisite attention to detail, in a way similar to director Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, another film which dealt with relationships that didn't fit the mold of society at that time, and how they affected those around them. I wondered where the plot would go, and was pleased with the way the story unfolded. More than anything, however, I realized that while our world is far from perfect, it is a hell of a lot better than the world of 1952, when Patricia Highsmith wrote the book upon which this movie is based. But Haynes treated this love story like any other, and that added to the film's poignancy. Truly excellent.

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