Carol lacks the chemistry to deliver an affecting story, but its compensated with deft direction, purposeful cinematography, detailed production design, and Oscar worthy performances that effectively conveys the unspoken language of attraction and love.
Set in 1950s New York, two women from very different backgrounds find themselves in the throes of love. A young woman in her 20s, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), is a clerk working in a Manhattan department store and dreaming of a more fulfilling life when she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring woman trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage. As an immediate connection sparks between them, the innocence of their first encounter dims and their connection deepens.
As Hollywood gets hammered with issues about diversity and equality, some fat cats are taking advantage of the situation for profit and prestige. As expected, Weinstein wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to adapt one of the most popular lesbian books especially when it has the potential to add more trophies on his rack.
Cynicism aside and fairness in consideration, The Price of Salt is an important movie that’s needed to be made in a more accessible format. Carol is 11 years in the making and does benefit from his company’s proven experience in turning everyday lives into moving pieces worthy of Oscar gold.
The trailer already gives us a glimpse of the Super 16mm with a muted color palette and detailed production that enables the movie to attain a look that stays true to its period. The cinematography (Edward Lachman) and film direction (Todd Haynes) are used purposefully to establish the theme of longing and loneliness while also capturing and conveying the nuances of a developing attraction between two women. Camerawork is expertly used to communicate thoughts hidden in plain sight and highlights subtleties exchanged between them. In one scene, the camera frames Carol and Therese as they talk over a purchase in a department store, showing each giving a hint of more than just casual glances.
The well written script (Phyllis Nagy) provides plenty of moments such as this that provides us clues to Carol’s hidden life and Therese’ self-discovery, which turn this visually well executed movie into an intelligent and engaging chronology of two characters ahead of their time.
Performances, as expected from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are superb. Carol is cunningly forward but thanks to Blanchett’s performance you can see that these slightly predatory advances are from a woman who has been kept from her desires, making her character sympathetic. Therese is guarded but unafraid of following her feelings, portrayed deftly by Rooney Mara who resembles an innocent Audrey Hepburn. The rest of the cast, including the reliable Kyle Chandler and Sara Paulson are great in providing a construct for the couple’s lives and obligations.
As much there is plenty to appreciate about the technical prowess of this movie, Carol’s love story leaves much to be desired. The movie offers little of the romantic spark between two women. The audience will see two people trying to start a romantic relationship, rather than watch a love story unfold. The two leads don’t have chemistry that an erotic love scene becomes another nicely shot moment. You’ may find yourself looking more at the scenery rather than the people in it.
Still, there are plenty to admire in Carol’s moments. It shows two women from different backgrounds yet similar positions in life. Their experience may differ but both are longing to be their true selves. It’s able to portray a love that cannot be said, only hinted, and left to be understood without a word. You can feel that there is something between Carol and Therese and the way that force spills over their accepted yet societal dictated lives.
Overall and fortunately, Carol is a beautiful adaptation and one of the best lesbian movies of the year next to Duke of Burgundy. It’s an obvious Oscar vehicle for Cate Blanchett and its awards strategist producer, but it can’t also be denied that it is a well made movie made at the right time.
My Rating: 9/10