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Carol – Review


Release Date: 20 November 2015 [USA]
Director: Todd Haynes
Writer: Phyllis Nagy [Screenplay] - Patricia Highsmith [Novel]
Cast: Cate Blanchett - Rooney Mara - Sarah Paulson



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Posted December 10, 2015 by

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Carol Review:

Carol for Best Picture? It certainly deserves to be shortlisted for the top honour at next year’s Academy Awards. It has received so many four and five star reviews that the only way one can say something new about it is to pick holes. Now I’m not really one for ruining good hosiery – Mrs O never lets me wash it anyway – so I’m not going to be too grouchy about this one. It is good, damn it! Why haven’t you seen it yet?

Director Todd Haynes isn’t as well known as he should be. He came to critical attention with Superstar – The Karen Carpenter Story, a biopic told through the medium of Barbie Dolls; then along came a law suit. He celebrated glam rock in Velvet Goldmine and remade Mildred Pierce for HBO with Kate Winslet. He gave us a grump of Bob Dylans in I’m Not There – a grump being a collective noun for protest singers. (‘You can do whatever you want – don’t eat at Alice’s restaurant’ – good advice, Arlo. But we have websites for that now.) Haynes also made a couple of corkers with Julianne Moore, Safe and Far From Heaven. In the main, he makes women’s pictures, melodramas, studies of desire – the desire of the forbidden. He’s a top shelf kind of guy – but with taste.

Carol is the first film he has made from someone else’s script. Phyllis Nagy, a playwright turned screenwriter, was a friend of the author, Patricia Highsmith, whose 1952 novel, ‘The Price of Salt’ she adapted. The screenplay took fifteen years to write; Nagy spent a lot of time reducing the dialogue to silence, an exchange of looks, emotionally-charged glances and the like; when people say ‘charge your glasses’, I think they mean ‘charge your glances’ – but someone misheard. It is the story of a shop worker, Therese (Rooney Mara) who in a 1950s department story recommends to one of her customers, Carol (Cate Blanchett) that she buy a train set for Christmas. Talk about up-selling. Carol is taken by the shop assistant’s advice, but then leaves her gloves behind. Therese has to return them. Then: why not meet for lunch?

I don’t know when Rooney Mara, who really wasn’t The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in the David Fincher remake, is going to become a bone fide movie star but in my book she has arrived. She’s the real locomotive in this movie, drawn irresistibly towards Carol like a hanger to a fur coat (you can’t leave it draped on a chair). Therese is dating to a dull brick of a guy – in the F Scott Fitzgerald sense – who wants her to travel him to Europe. Therese doesn’t yet know herself. She dabbles in photography; she isn’t defined by her job. She doesn’t know what she likes until it is there in front of her.

Blanchett plays the object of desire, a woman who embraces her femininity – the fashion, the perfume and motherhood. We see Carol mainly through Therese’s eyes. She’s married to a brick (Kyle Chandler) – in the Pink Floyd sense – who wants her to be a proper wife. But if Carol is going to fraternise with other women, her husband is going to make sure he gets custody of their daughter.

Much of the film takes place over a Christmas break when Carol, who drives, takes Therese on a road trip. For a while it is an idyll, but there is an ugly development.

As in all good films about desire, gratification is delayed. Mara and Blanchett have real screen chemistry; it helps that Blanchett has done period movies before – she won as Oscar for playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, don’t cha know.

Haynes shot Carol on film and revels in the grainy, ethereal look. The thing about film is that it isn’t as crisp and flat as digital. It doesn’t hum. It threatens to dissolve, like Aspirin. It is a perfect medium for a romance between two women reaching for something. We don’t know what it is, but we know it is a shared feeling.

Haynes’ restrained direction is pitch-perfect. Carter Burwell’s Philip Glass-esque score evokes the twisting knots of desire, the heart squeezed like a handkerchief. The sound is excellent too. You can hear the characters breathe, really breathe – as when a hand is placed on Therese’s shoulder. It lingers; Therese’s sigh inhales Carol’s touch. There is a gun but it isn’t used in the obvious dramatic Ibsen way. There is also a terrific, wholly satisfying – thank you Mr Haynes – ending.

If I had to nitpick, it is worth noting that you never see Carol’s daughter playing with the train set. Is it a waste?


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Larry Oliver
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