Monday, January 11, 2016

Film Review: Carol (2015)

In 1952 Manhattan, Therese (Rooney Mara) has started a temporary job at Frankenberg’s department store where she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett) a glamorous and alluring woman looking for Christmas gifts for her daughter.  After the transaction, Carol leaves her gloves behind leading to Therese finding her address and send them back to her.  Out of gratitude Carol invites her to lunch where they become increasingly closer

Therese is trying to skirt the issue of marriage with her boring boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy).   Meanwhile, Carol is in the middle of a custody battle with her neglectful husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is using an affair Carol had with her friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) as proof of her incapacity for motherhood.  To escape their personal lives, they head out west for a road trip… 

The tender chemistry between Blanchett and Mara presented against the backdrop of hostile 1950s America makes Carol one of the most beautiful love stories of the year.  Simple moments such as Therese taking candid photographs of Carol buying a Christmas tree, or Carol watching Therese play the piano take on great importance and hold deep sexual tension.  Cinematographer Edward Lechman has a long history of photographing strong compelling women (such as Erin Brokovich, The Virgin Suicides and Todd Haynes’ earlier I’m Not There and Far From Heaven) and throughout Carol many of his frames of Therese and Carol’s warm glances are stunning and could be hung in galleries.

The recurring and expanding piano / string refrain from Carter Burwell is hauntingly beautiful and layers moments in the narrative with a sadness that foreshadows the inevitable difficulty of their relationship.  The upbeat diegetic jazz music playing in the bars and cafes that the characters frequent is juxtaposed with the more mournful and apprehensive theme that haunts the two women as their story progresses.

Carol manages to show both the injustice of being ‘outed’ as homosexual and the threat it can have on your family life (Carol must see a psychoanalyst for her “morality”), but also the glamour that gay New Yorkers were beginning to feel in the 1950s.  Still out of sight but with a pride in their own circles and social spaces, Carol has an allure of glamour and cachet amongst Manhattan socialites.

The photography, costumes and locations all wonderfully enhance the compelling and tragic story of Therese and Carol, wonderfully performed by Blanchett and Mara.  Their happier moments out on the road or locked in motel rooms are heartwarming highs. Yet at their low moments, not since Slint’s 1991 Good Morning, Captain have the words ‘I miss you’ crushed me so hard…

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