Friday, December 25, 2015


Much like Brooklyn, Carol is a beautifully rendered period piece about a young woman's awakening highlighted by the performance of its lead actress. Sadly, much like Brooklyn, Carol also has the same deficiencies and the performances overshadow, but don't obscure, the script's weaknesses.

Although she plays the title character in the film, Cate Blanchett is not Carol's leading lady. That honor goes to Rooney Mara as shopgirl and aspiring photographer Therese Belivet whose head is turned by the glamorous older woman who she immediately connects with in a ways she has never been able to with her longtime boyfriend (Jake Lacy).

I'm not sure if Therese is a lesbian, bisexual, or just sexually curious, but then again I'm not the only one as the script itself seems unsure about who its leading character is and what she wants. Because Therese doesn't know who she is (something characters in Phyllis Nagy's script directly point out at least three separate times) the movie struggles to understand her true motivations. And if the movie doesn't know who she is, how can we?

Despite the drama of Carol's (Blanchett) estranged marriage and having very little in common other than an obvious attraction, the rich woman and the poor shopgirl begin a friendship. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt most of the film is a very chaste friendship between the pair with sexual undertones that both are aware of but unwilling to act upon.

When the movie sticks with these two characters it flourishes. However, the film has several other troubling aspects that not only get in-between the characters but also cause major script issues. These begin with Kyle Chandler as Carol's sterotypical bastard husband who still loves his wife even though he knows she's a lesbian. In proper dumb movie logic he attempts to use insults, legal blackmail, and the pair's daughter to put his wife back in her place. And it's here where the movie gets into trouble, not only because Chandler and the entire subplot stinks of bad melodrama but also because it makes the actions of Carol, choosing to both abandon her daughter and ignore the divorce proceedings to go on a road trip with the impressionable young woman who is infatuated with her, ring false throughout the second-half of the movie.

Getting quality performances out of his two leads, director Todd Haynes seems to hope his actresses (and the promise of hot lesbian action) will obscure broader problems with the movie's plot. Sadly, that's not the case. Therese is such a passive character, clinging to the interests of whomever shows her attention it's hard to see the movie as a true love story. And if its not true love then Carol is just a derelict mother taking advantage of a young girl for cheap thrills. To see the basic flaw with the film, re-imagine Carol as a man with the same storyline unfolding and examine how unacceptable the entire "romance" of an older man abandoning his family and taking advantage of an impressionable young girl alone on the road would be. Is there a double-standard because both characters happen to be female? This is romance?

Sarah Paulson has a small role as Carol's former lover and the godmother of her daughter. One of the only memorable scenes of the film that doesn't take place between Therese and Carol involves the shopgirl and Abby (Paulson) discussing the woman they both love. The only one of the three who acts like a grown-up in the situation, Abby is largely marginalized in the script (which is sad given how much of Chandler's one-dimensional asshole we get instead).

There's plenty of beauty in Carol if you only look skin deep, but the performances of its two leading ladies only obscures the flaws for so long before they begin to show through the heavy make-up. Carol isn't a bad movie, the performances of its leads alone make it worth viewing, but given the attention it is garnering this award season it may very well turn out to be the most overrated movie of the year.

No comments: