Carol (2015) (R)
A lot of times, "Carol" feels like it's trying to replace drama from the golden age of Hollywood. The set design is elegant, the costumes are pressed, the makeup is effortlessly beautiful and I can't help but wonder how much Cate Blanchett's feet must hurt in all the heels that she wears. The movie is combating a history of heteronormative storytelling with a lesbian couple at its center. But in doing this, several problems arise and the space for great drama is created.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works at a department store in the 1950s and one day a rich, older lady named Carol (Blanchett) walks in and Therese is struck by her. She is beautiful, classy, a little neurotic, and poised. It's not hard to see that Therese is somewhat in awe of this lady.
And then, by happy coincidence, this woman leaves her gloves and Therese returns them as any good person would and a friendship is formed between them, a friendship that will eventually turn into romance.
"Carol" is not a great work of screenwriting or intricate plot details. It makes the correct assumption that we will be more interested in the characters themselves instead of what they're doing. The plot, in this respect, is fairly thin. Not much happens besides the establishment of this time period as hostile towards gay and lesbian couples.
But maybe "Carol" shouldn't be about its plot details, but rather, see it as rewriting romance with the firm argument that everyone should be able to experience love with another person. It's not as political as all that, but its ending makes it very clear that this is a romance, and not a drama.
As Therese begins to become more curious about Carol and the titular character starts to face marital problems with her husband that is converging in an inevitable divorce, the two women take a road trip together to clear their minds.
A great deal of the movie is set-up. We watch Therese in her job, at her apartment, dealing with her boyfriend, getting hit on by his friends, drinking at a bar with friends, eating, etc. etc. It almost begins to feel monotonous but Rooney Mara is a very watchable actress and it never feels too tiresome to the point of boredom.
Because the plot is so relatively thin, the performances have to be great and they are for the most part. There is the assumption that in a movie like this, there will be more crying, more screaming, and more drama; but the emotional level is kept at a pretty low grade, allowing for us to see characters in dignity, rather than a state of perpetual anxiety. This also allows the romance to be all the more intimate and ravishing. Consider a scene in which the ladies apply perfume, Therese places her head in Carol's neck to smell the perfume and they linger just a little longer than they should before turning away from each other and blushing. It's this kind of saccharine intimacy that makes "Carol" succeed.
What doesn't work is some of its more clunky dialogue; but that is forgiven considering Blanchett and Mara's acting.
"Carol" is much less about its titular character and much more about Therese's life. It almost plays like a biopic at times, tracking the doings of Therese as she balances personal life with her career. The movie shifts focus near the end onto Carol only to bring it back to Therese for the ending, which seems appropriate.
And while the last scene may not have the emotional power of other queer films, it does prove "Carol" to be something worth seeing and worth noting, if only for its presence among other works.
Posted by Micah Jones