AFTER an eight-year absence from directing feature films, the talented Todd Haynes returns with Carol, a well-acted romance that might not match the greatness of previous work but still carries enough engagement to impress.
When we first see them in the opening sequence, the eponymous Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) are sat down at dinner where they are interrupted by a male acquaintance of Therese. In what seems like a clearly inspired scenario from Brief Encounter, Carol leaves them to converse where the rest of the film acts as a flashback depicting the gradual love affair they embarked upon.
Therese is an aspiring photographer who unhappily works at a department store and first encounters Carol at her workplace. After Carol leaves behind her gloves, Therese tracks her down where a friendship begins to blossom. It is there that we understand Carol is in the middle of a divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) that is made more complicated by the custody battle the two are locked in with their only daughter.
With the film progressing, it appears that implied scenarios from Carol’s past are hindering her chances of securing custody. As the relationship between Carol and Therese deepens, it dawns that in spite of happiness, the after effects of a same-sex relationship could prove detrimental to maintaining a basic life regarding where Carol stands with her daughter.
When one went in to this film, there was high hopes that this film could finally bring what has been missing in American cinema in the last year and a half, something genuinely fantastic. Making more for its case was the reputation of Haynes whose Far from Heaven (another 1950s set social drama) and I’m Not There stand as some of the more memorable American works of this century thus far. By the end of the film, one left with the same viewpoint of what have turned out to likely be the top American works from this year, that it was good, but not very good.
Looking at what makes it succeed for what it is shown is the genuine love story that centres between the two lead characters. Blanchett and Mara bring a likability to Carol and Therese but also a sympathy to their causes, such that one would possess a heart of stone not to wish a bright future for them. Both actresses have displayed better work in the past but there still lies a modest notion of memorability in respects to certain sequences with each performance.
The custody battle detailing the mother in danger of losing the child to the father and it allows us to see the insecurities and concerns of Carol, not just as a lover, but as a mother. Blanchett’s best scene is during a court hearing and her line to Harge expressing ‘‘we’re not ugly people’’ does make for another solid characterisation from Blanchett, even if it does not warrant a huge discussion for Oscar consideration.
Mara, making a habit of portraying characters involved in lesbian relationships following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Side Effects, is equally solid to Blanchett’s more experienced character. Again, there isn’t a case for anything outstanding but there is a placement for intrigue in her character that displays interest as to where the film heads with the story. Her uncertainty as whether to be in a relationship with a man does make for interesting viewing from a story’s perspective, as one queries what potential reactions her relationship with Carol can bring on her side too.
The choice of the film, an adaptation from Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, having a non-linear opening does however feel a bit too much like Brief Encounter. It doesn’t feel as original as it should be and by adopting this technique, the surprise element of the film seems to be missing significantly as a result, rather than telling us what is happening as it goes along.
Though the film shouldn’t really be discussed too much in the higher Oscar categories, the same can’t be said though for the use of cinematography and production design, memorable enough to justify victory there.
Though the trio of Haynes, Blanchett and Mara have each done more superior work, there is a likability and an admiration in Carol for bringing something like this, even if one would have expected and hoped for more.