Sparks always fly at the toy store. Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is a young department store clerk, working in 1950’s Manhattan, New York. She has a steady boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who so desperately wants to vacation out to Europe and make Therese his wife. While flattered, Therese desires more and isn’t ready to commit to Rich yet, and still harbors dreams of being a photographer.
One day at the store, she meets Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a well-off and elegant woman who has an aura about her that is impossible to resist. Immediately, a connection is born, and the two become inseparable. Complicating matters are Carol’s husband and reluctant divorcee Harge (Kyle Chandler), and their battle over custody of their child. But, love finds a way, right?
As Keith over at Keith & the Movies opined, from the get-go, Carol is a movie that simply looks polished and primed for awards time. Obviously, this piece is coming days after Carol was shut out of the Golden Globes, but five nominations, even without one win, still means that Carol did its job. Did it do its job in making yours truly care about it? I wish I could say yes.
At the very least, Carol comes outfitted with great and workmanlike acting from the two co-leads, which is to be expected with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. The two play well off of each other, feel believable as character polar opposites, and are extremely brave and fully committed to their roles. It’s hard to find anything to have real gripes with, and if either receive Oscar noms (Editor’s note: Both have), they would be earned.
If one looked to be a stronger lock than the other for their nominated category, I’d say Blanchett has the stronger case. Her character is not only the obvious title of the movie, but she does bring a mysterious magnetism to her that makes Mara dull by comparison. But I suppose that is the point, though I believe Cate would be harder to replace in her role than Rooney. Sarah Paulson also does well, and though Kyle Chandler is awfully one-note, he does the best he can with what is given. The only weak link happens to be Jake Lacy. For some reason, it is hard for me not to see him still as Plop from season nine of The Office.
Carol does have good, but unmemorable directorial style. Directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There), it certainly resembles the early 50’s, from dress to the way subjects look in lighting, as the movie has got that 50’s light jazz club fuzzy haze throughout. Sadly, what it doesn’t have is a story that yours truly ever really cared about.
About 20 minutes in, I couldn’t stop thinking about Brooklyn when watching Carol. Both rely on simplicity and elegance, but only the former also achieves with actual story drama and tension, to go with characters who are written well. As well as Mara and Blanchett are, there’s little desire to see where their connection goes, or even if it will remain. Their stakes never feel that high, and something tangible never truly felt like it was on the line. The B (not so much side) stories with the custody, aunt, etc., unfortunately did little to capture the attention, or round out the leading ladies.
I really did want to like Carol, and there are pieces of it that absolutely work, namely, the performances. But, as runtime wore on, it became a exercise in viewing nothingness, one that I struggle to find the words for and care less about doing so.
Photo credits go to hypable.com, fashiongonerogue.com, and elle.com.
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