The 400-Word Review: Carol
By Sean Collier
January 11, 2016
There are no surprises in the plot and tone of Carol, Todd Haynes’ lovely adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt. It’s a period drama about a lesbian couple set in 1950s New York City; the emotional notes, then, are what you’d expect: restrained desire, the paranoid anxiety created by societal pressures, the confusion of a still-taboo relationship.
It’s the relationship itself that makes Carol lovely. Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is a well-to-do, perfectly fashionable soon-to-be divorcée; while she’s an all-around poor match with her estranged husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), Carol’s affair with her best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) was certainly the beginning of the end for their marriage. In search of a gift for their young daughter, Rindy (played by twins Sadie and Kk Heim), Carol meets shopgirl Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara).
Carol is flirtatious, which seems to knock Therese off her feet; she’s in a relationship with a slightly dopey contemporary (Jake Lacy), but the existence of Carol seems to stir previously unaddressed desires in Therese. Carol leaves her gloves on the counter; when Therese tracks the older woman down to return them, a lunch date (never referred to as such) is set.
The middle act of Carol is a curious dance, as societal norms render Therese unable to directly admit to her feelings — which, in turn, gives her no reason to avoid becoming close to Therese. It’s an interesting portrait of courtship at once formal and completely forbidden; as in his previous (and slightly superior) period piece, Far From Heaven, Haynes is masterful at rendering his characters’ internal lives on the screen.
Of course, this is the ’50s, and Carol inevitably becomes a story of love that cannot be permitted. Harge has Rindy’s custody to dangle over Carol, and he’s not particularly happy about her plan to travel cross-country with Therese. While there’s nothing unexpected about these developments, they’re not maudlin or overwrought. At its core, Carol is not about injustice — despite the period, this is a love story (and a thoroughly relatable one).
While Mara does a fine job, Blanchett is perfect; her work here may be even better than her Oscar-winning turn in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Carol is at its best when the two women share the screen; even when little is occurring, the nuances of their love for one another are delivered into the theater with supreme clarity.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark