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Carol (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 1, 2020


CAROL (2015)

Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, Carrie Brownstein, Cory Michael Smith, John Magaro, Kevin Crowley, Nik Pajic, Trent Rowland, Sadie Heim, KK Heim, Amy Warner, Michael Haney, Wendy Lardin, Pamela Evans Haynes, Greg Violand and Michael Ward.

Screenplay by Phyllis Nagy.

Directed by Todd Haynes.

Distributed by The Weinstein Company.  118 minutes.  Rated R.

Todd Haynes’ latest movie Carol is the type of movie that is a bit tricky for reviewers.

First of all, it is amazingly well made.  It not only captures the look and feel of American life in the 1950s, it actually feels like a movie that was made during that decade.  Cate Blanchett gives one of her best performances (in a career full of stylish performances) and the rest of the cast is on the whole terrific.

It is based on an once-scandalous early novel (The Price of Salt) by a legendary author (Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley).  The screenplay is done by an acclaimed playwright – one who actually knew Highsmith when she was alive and treats the source material with love and respect.

It looks at an important social issue (lesbianism) in the middle of a highly repressed time in our history.  It also champions family values and takes a hard look at responsible parenting.  It also does a good job of not necessarily judging the mores of the past by looking at them from the present.

All of these things will make the movie catnip for Oscar voters.

I recognize and appreciate all of these virtues.  Yet, speaking simply as a viewer, Carol is extremely slow-moving.  Really, it is bordering on dull.

Carol is the type of movie that is easy to respect, but it’s a lot harder to enjoy.

Which in itself does not necessarily hurt the film’s awards opportunities.  Oscar history is riddled with Best Pictures that could be described similarly: Out of Africa, Gandhi, The English Patient, Dances with Wolves, The Last Emperor, The King’s Speech and many, many more.

Let’s face it, no one was ever looking for Carol to be a box office hit.  It was never planned on as anything but an art-house favorite which may score some award love.  In that measure, it is totally worthy.

I don’t think Carol will come home with a Best Picture prize – there are better arty films out there this year – but Blanchett has to be considered a strong contender for Best Actress.  And it will most certainly get a Best Picture nomination.

Carol actually tells a rather simple and yet rather nuanced story.  Blanchett plays the title character, a forty-ish high society wife and mother.  Her marriage with her brusque husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) has long since lost its luster, but both dote on their little daughter.  Over the years, Carol has started to recognize that she is attracted to other women, but due to societal taboos and her station, she has tried to fight these urges.

Carol meets a young shop girl named Therese (Rooney Mara) who attracts her.  She befriends the girl and they quickly become platonically inseparable, but they are slowly moving towards a more intimate connection.  Meanwhile Harge, who feels cuckolded by this new relationship, threatens to take their daughter away from Carol.

If you have seen director Haynes’ previous work – Far From Heaven, Mildred Pierce – you’ll have a basic idea of what to expect… glorious, exact period recreation, smart literate characters trying to repress their deepest emotions until there is an explosion.

Truth is, this is Haynes’ best movie yet – and he has done some very good work previously – but his skills as a director are just getting better.

The acting is mostly spectacular.  Beyond Blanchett, Chandler has some spectacular moments (though his character of Harge is made out to be the bad guy a bit too broadly).  The only slight problem is Mara, who makes Therese a bit too much of a cipher.

Carol is a very good movie.  I just wish that watching it didn’t feel so much like doing homework.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: November 20, 2015.

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