Once you work in retail, you’ll fall right out of love with everyone.
In New York City, during the 1950s, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works as a sales-clerk for a department store that excels during the holiday season. While she does aspire to be a photographer, most of her life surrounds this job, and the possibility that she and her boyfriend (Jake Lacy), may be heading out for Europe some time soon. However, Therese’s life gets turned upside down when she meets an older woman by the name of Carol (Cate Blanchett). Though Carol is currently going through a divorce with her husband (Kyle Chandler), she’s still tied to her child and doesn’t want to lose her in the proceedings, due to claims of affairs she had with other women. Despite this, Carol is still drawn to Therese and vice versa, so because of that, the two decide to see if they can make something of this relationship, despite it being the 50’s and time hasn’t quite caught on yet. But no matter what, Therese and Carol decide to leave their former lives behind for a little while, head out on a road trip, and eventually, see if they should be together and make this thing work, if it’s just another sordid fling for Carol that she wants to try out with a younger woman.
Given the relationship, as well as the nature of it, Carol could have easily just been one crazy sex ride from beginning to end. Wistful glances from afar? Slight breezing of hands? Curious smell of perfume? Oh man! Already sweating just typing it all!
But surprisingly, but at the same time, unsurprisingly, writer/director Todd Haynes handles it all with ease, care, and above all else, delicacy.
See, for one, Carol concerns itself with a romance tale that most people, new and old, may already feel square-ish about – not due to the fact that it concerns two women, but one who is much older than the other and clearly looking for some hot, young meat to sink her teeth into. And from the very start, that’s exactly what Carol seems like; while our titular character definitely has enough reason for wanting to experience something younger and much more lustful, there’s also a good enough reason why she may just be after Therese in the first place and that’s just for a little bit of fun sex. No shame in that, however, Haynes makes it perfectly clear that to Therese, this is no game.
In fact, if anything, it might be love.
And from here on out, Carol takes a wide turn away from being infatuation, to deep, dark and heavy romance that, despite being seen as constant HLA, is actually very far from. In fact, if anything, it’s plenty more subdued that, despite one key scene that’s not just beautiful, but perfect in describing how it is to make love to someone you actually love for the first time, the whole movie’s just a lot of shared-looks and beating around the bush (pun intended, I’m sorry). Nobody in Carol outright declares their love for one another, nor do they ever make it clear just what they’re full intentions are; all that they do know is that they’re feeling something and going wherever it takes them next.
Which is to say that yes, the two people I’m talking about the most is indeed Carol and Therese, as portrayed both perfectly by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, respectively. Much has already been made about who is the lead character here and who isn’t; no matter how you put it, both characters are given just as much as attention, detail and focus as the other, so regardless, they’re both fully-developed, well-rounded characters who you get a sense of from the very start and gradually continue to know more about, as the story progresses. Haynes could have easily left these characters at just the surface-level, but instead, takes more steps into showing us how they are together, as well as when they aren’t together, which is perhaps what matters most.
And by the same token, allows each actress to dig deeper and deeper into who these characters exactly.
As the titular Carol, Blanchett finally feels as if she’s really building a character here and not just “acting”, with a capital A. Don’t get me wrong, Blanchett is an amazing actress who can never not be good, but lately, it seems like most of her roles have just been about placing her in a spot and letting her do her thing. Nothing wrong with that, but after awhile, it starts to get tiring and, in a way, boring for the actor themselves. That’s why, as Carol develops, we get to see Blanchett go down certain avenues with this character that we don’t expect and get to witness for the first time, which not only makes her seem fresh to us, but also real and believable. While we want to be upset with her and judge her for leaving her family and giving into temptation, to see how truly happy she is in her own skin, when she doesn’t have to hide or shelter herself, is a perfect reason to think otherwise and that’s why Blanchett’s performance truly is amazing.
As for Mara playing Therese, she’s even better. Therese, on-paper, seems like a meek, mild-mannered girl who doesn’t have much to say or do with her life, and generally seems to be just floating about. However, as we start to understand more and more about Therese as the movie progresses, we see that she’s just a sad, little confused girl who has no road to lead her on, nor a person to fully lean on; she’s just going with the flow, but desperately in need of a plan that it’s making her depressed. Mara’s great in making us feel the sympathy for this character, but never overdoing it, and it’s why her performance, while maybe not as showy, is perhaps the most effective.
Together, the two have great chemistry, from the beginning to the very end.
Because Carol is a movie that deals with a relationship, as its developing, its interesting to see it from the initial, building stages, to what it eventually becomes, if anything at all. There’s no real form of chemistry; there’s just a lot of awkward pauses, phrasing and stutters that don’t really go anywhere, except to show that you’re just as flustered as the other person. You’re getting a feel for the other and you’re just seeing to where it all could go. That’s why, when Carol and Therese first meet, get together and see what they can do about the spark between one another, it feels honest and believable – not like a “meet-cute” scenario where they hit it off right the bat.
This is mostly due to the fact that, yes, both Carol and Therese have issues of their own going on, which basically all just boil down to being about men. However, what Haynes does well here, is that he fleshes out these two character’s stories well enough to where they’re not just worth caring about, but sympathetic. Kyle Chandler’s Harge seems like a genuinely upset and heartbroken man who was lied to and sort of toyed around with, only to just now realize that he’s got no direction in life and basically hopeless. Same goes with Jake Lacy’s Richard, a guy who so clearly and desperately wants Therese in his life, but doesn’t want to overthrow his hand, nor get forgotten about, either – he just wants to be with her, love her, marry her, have kids with her, and do whatever else couples do.
If that doesn’t sound at all sweet or romantic, then go elsewhere and stay away from Carol, you heartless wench.
Consensus: Elegant and beautiful, in both its visuals, as well as its story, Carol features a lovely, but compelling romance, as portrayed perfectly by both Blanchett and Mara.
9 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire