Carol has brilliant production design transporting you to America of the early 1950s. It is well-crafted and also has two strong central performances by its leading ladies. There are some wonderful moments between the two with effective use of a look or a glance, small yet telling gestures, or simply just a light touch – all handled with admirable restraint and some languid pacing to give its material sufficient time to play out. But somewhere this subtlety also rebounds on the film as it plays out a tad flatly, bereft of crests and troughs that might have made for more engaging viewing.
Carol is based on the novel The Price of Salt, written by Patricia Highsmith that was published in 1952 under a pseudonym, since it dealt with lesbianism, a big no-no at the time and even considered a mental disorder! The film, interestingly, has a structure similar to David Lean’s classic, Brief Encounter (1945), one of the most memorable (illicit) love stories ever to be told on the silver screen. Both begin with a meeting between the lovers that is interrupted, we go into a flashback via one of them and finally come back to the meeting only to look at it now with a totally different perspective. But while Lean gives you a knock-out emotional blow as you return to the scene with new understanding, Todd Haynes is unable to hit you with the same intensity in Carol.
While the film is called Carol, more than the titular role, it really is the blossoming of an awkward sales girl, Therese (Rooney Mara) on coming in contact with the sophisticated socialite of the title (Cate Blanchett) after the latter deliberately ‘accidentally’ leaves her gloves on Therese’s counter after their initial interaction. Though the story is essentially shown from Therese’s viewpoint, it goes far too much into neutral territory in an attempt to flesh out Carol and her issues as well as she fights a custody battle with her husband over her daughter, thereby diluting the narrative flow. That said, both the women admittedly have strong character graphs as with Carol, we see the vulnerability and cracks appear under her supposedly hard controlled exterior and see her life spiraling downwards even as the young uncertain Therese grows into a young confident woman by the end of the film.
Technically, the film is strong in every department but its life and soul are the two lead performances. The two women play off each other brilliantly and it is their incredible chemistry together that gives the film much of its strength. Cate Blanchett has the difficult role of Carol Aird ‘acting’ out a perfect life and in that sense has a rather thin line to balance where her performance is an act but doesn’t fall into good but studied acting. She manages it admiringly but for me, the film belongs to Mara. From the wide-eyed, bumbling shop girl looking for what she wants in life, to get into a forbidden love affair, to becoming the confident photographer having understood her sexuality, she is perfect. Both women are able to expertly channelize their internal feelings making us understand exactly all that they are going through. Strong support comes from Kyle Chandler as Carol’s husband and especially Sarah Paulson, as a former lover of Carol, who still remains her best confidant.
Carol, no doubt, has the look, the feel and the performances. And while well-worth a watch, one misses just that little extra that makes an otherwise good film, great.
English, Drama, Color