A period romance. I should not have liked this film as much as I did.
Carol is directed by Todd Haynes and stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two women both trapped in restrictive relationships in 1950s America. After running into each other in a toy story, they start up a hesitant relationship that eventually blossoms into a full romance that threatens to derail both their lives.
Plastered all over the marketing and posters is the two leads, so lets get straight to them. As expected (particularly of Blanchett), they are both exceptional. Blanchett plays titular character Carol Aird, a mother of one going through a messy divorce. She’s nuanced and understated in her performance, while also able to imbue every scene with a sense of grace, determination and passion. Mara portrays Theresa Vehitt, a shy young woman being pressured by her somewhat-boyfriend into getting married, and is on par with Blanchett in every scene, balancing Carol’s confidence with a shyness and demure.
But the really impressive part, of both the performances and the screenplay, is the development of the relationship between them. Its a slow build and feels genuine, which makes the inevitable release of passion feel earned and authentic. So basically, a real relationship. Which is harder to do than it sounds.
Haynes direction and cinematography is equally worthy of praise. The film balances a feeling of both warmth and distance perfectly under the methodical control of a clearly talented director. Its quite beautiful at times, and every shot is deliberate. The period as well is perfectly realised. It feels authentic and real without putting in any effort into showing it off – at times I almost forgot the fashions and technology was over 60 years old the setting is so engrossing.
There are however some cracks that are worth mentioning. In a hilarious twist on typical Hollywood issue, its the men that are underdeveloped in this movie. Sure you could make the argument that the focus is on the two women, but that doesn’t disregard the fact that Carol’s husband and Theresa’s boyfriend are clichés rather than characters. They both consist of a mashing of the angry/controlling partner cliché, and the jealous/spiteful cliché, which is really poor characterisation next to such well-realised protagonists. A shame considering how good the rest of the film is.
Considering this is not my type of film by a large margin, I was still enamoured with the beautiful craftsmanship and performances of Carol. A few odd plot points and underdeveloped characters keeps this from being one of the absolute best of 2015, but its still definitely a love story worth your time.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
Art Housers: Highly Recommended