Carol movie poster

Release: Friday, November 20, 2015 (limited)


Written by: Phyllis Nagy

Directed by: Todd Haynes

Carol is a conventional romance saved by less conventional characters and a fairly satisfying resolution. It may be happily ever after (sort of), but as far as the population at large in the 1950s was concerned, no such thing existed for those identifying as homosexual. Todd Haynes’ sixth feature is an intensely well-acted affair but I just can’t help feeling less and less enthusiastic about it as time presses on.

Technically speaking Carol is an astonishing cinematic achievement. There’s absolutely no way this film was made in 2015: its milieu, painstakingly realized to the point where Cate Blanchett, playing the titular woman who falls for a much younger girl, and to a lesser degree Rooney Mara, her lover, are classic Hollywood starlets rather than reincarnations thereof. It’s an experience in which oppression is palpable, the pursuit of happiness is more akin to the fulfillment of fantasy. The edifice of New York City is less physical as it is ideological: it’s worth everyone’s time to condemn homosexuality, apparently.

You could accuse Carol of lacking imagination with its ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality, but that’s not the major concern here — mostly because that was very much the case for these women, characters created from the mind of suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith in her seminal romance ‘The Price of Salt.’ No, that reality is very much powerful — it was almost quite literally Carol Aird and Therese Belivet against the world. Highsmith even wrote the book under a pseudonym because of the supposed radical content. Indeed she felt like it was her against the world.

Bravery in writing notwithstanding, Carol fails to mine great depths. It’s a testament to the power of its central leads that I was able to invest so much of my energy empathizing with them as the significance of their togetherness grew more profound — purportedly — with each passing vignette. Carol spends more time suggesting the ‘will they-won’t they’ tension that has come to define contemporary romances and romantic comedies. Of course, this film aspires to more than just showing how good two bodies can look together.

It’s not so much the burgeoning romance isn’t believable — Blanchett and Mara are too good at their craft for that to be the case — it’s just not that interesting. Working at a department store during the holiday season, Therese is a woman on the brink of adulthood. She’s someone who’s largely unsatisfied with her current romantic life. One day she spots an elegant-looking blonde woman across the store, and the two end up locking eyes for a prolonged couple of seconds. It’s love at first sight. (I know, I know.) Carol asks the nervous-looking girl behind the counter what kind of gift she should buy for her daughter; Therese suggests a train set since that was her favorite toy as a child. The transaction is made and life seems to go on as normal immediately afterward, except for the fact Carol leaves behind her posh leather gloves on the counter . . . as one does in these sorts of movies.

It’s not long before Carol is inviting her new friend out to lunch and then to come visit her at home, where she is now living alone as she’s in the middle of a difficult divorce from her controlling husband Harge (Kyle Chandler). The personification of intolerance thanks to Chandler’s ability to once again become That Guy We Don’t Like, Harge is confident he’ll be awarded full custody of their child when he learns that Carol’s history with a childhood friend named Abby (Sarah Paulson), isn’t the sum totality of her interest in women.

Phyllis Nagy‘s adaptation of the 1952 novel is nothing if not enjoyably predictable. Her narrative bent takes a backseat to exquisite production values though. From the costume design to the warmth of Edward Lachman’s cinematography, the film is one of the more visually arresting pieces I’ve seen in some time. It should go without saying the romance is confidently handled; the fact it involves two women — and an age gap — is immaterial. But other than the people (read: actresses) involved, there’s nothing truly remarkable about this story. The net effect is that, while the film is anything but shallow, I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing on the outside looking in. I felt too distanced.
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Recommendation: Carol offers viewers two fine performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, the former of which has always been reliable and the latter becoming ever more watchable as she continues to shift genres and role types. It’s a movie you go to see for the performances, no doubt about it.

Rated: R

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “Just when it can’t get any worse, you run out of cigarettes.”

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25 thoughts on “Carol

  1. Great review, Tom! I still want to see this even though you sound somewhat disappointed. But, yeah, I like the two actresses so I’d be watching it for the performances anyway. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dude, I’m so self-conscious about my review too, lol!

    I’m in your camp, though you’re more positive than I am about Carol. I recognize the great performances…but I’ll be honest, I was untinterested around the 30 minute mark. Just couldn’t care enough about the two leads, and I never felt like there was anything at stake, compared to a movie I kept on thinking about as I continued to watch this one, Brooklyn.

    I wanted to like this, but I’ve forgotten all about it, really. Did nothing for me.


    • I liked it well enough but it won’t be something I’m going to miss. I would, however, be happy to see Blanchett walk away with an Oscar for her performance. Or Mara. I’m having a really hard time deciding who was better n here. An acting showcase, no doubt about it.

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  3. I agree with a lot of what you say. I didnt find the film too interesting either, thought it meandered considerably and just never had enough to keep me compelled. The performances are undeniably good but not enough to save the movie


    • I don’t think the movie is bad but just not my thing. The performances are very good. I’m probably just not the target audience for it, in fact I mainly went to see it because I had heard Cate Blanchett was up for an Oscar for her performance and so was Rooney Mara. That’s usually not the best motivation to see something

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  4. I think your review is very fair. No one can doubt the lead’s performances or the charm of the setting, the unconventional love-story, but at the end of the day, any decent movie must have this ability to stay with the audience and resonate with them, and although I realised the poetic beauty of the movie, I just could not care that much how it all ends.

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    • Excellent way to put it man, I couldn’t agree more. Carol is definitely well-made but it lost me here and there. I guess you could say it just wasn’t my type of movie?

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  5. Good stuff Tom! Was looking at what to watch this morning and we ended up seeing The Revenant again (to basically reassure myself about my review). Carol has never grabbed me. I’m seeing more and more people agreeing with your take.

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        • Lawlz. . . I mean, I don’t mean that really as an insult. It is just very. . .oh, how to put it. . .personal? Sweet? Not sugary, per se, but . . .eh. Not my cup-o-Joe. 😉

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          • Actually, Carol is supposed to be my type of a movie, I love such sweety, emotionally-intense dramas, especially set in the past. I think the problem with Carol is not its genre that may be hard to relate to, but the way it all eventually comes together, for example, apart from the husband-tape recording scene, I didn’t find any major drama unfolding there, and I thought it would somehow be more intense.

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  6. Tom, don’t worry, your review is sound. I will probably get to see this one this weekend. I’m sure I will enjoy it for the acting performances and the historical setting. I’ll keep in mind whether it lacks depth in the story-telling.


  7. So it sounds like the strong acting and the style is what keeps the movie together. I really gotta see it so I can give my opinion and I do love Cate Blanchett.


  8. Carol is such an exquisitely realized drama, it transcends the medium capturing a moment in time, not as it really was, but how we romanticize it to be.. Two standout performances supported by gorgeous cinematography, period costumes, a luscious Score and flawless writing. It was my 3rd best film in all of 2015. In fact it was the 3rd most mentioned film on all critics’ year end Top 10 lists.

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    • I agree it is a beautifully realized piece. The culture of the 1950s, a prestigious city, is bared for all of us to see. The attitudes and the ignorance is at times oppressive.

      To be completely honest your review of it was the best, I thought it was able to distill the romanticism of . . . well, romance, in a beautiful way. But then I didn’t go on and say anything about it in fear of plagiarism. 😉

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      • Put another way, I’m extremely self-conscious about this review. I wish I could have articulated myself a bit better. Oh well.


  9. My sentiments exactly. It’s a movie with strong acting but falls woefully short because it doesn’t say much. I felt the movie was quite lethargic as well, it just simply stayed at its character’s faces. Keep up the great work 🙂

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    • Yeah, I didn’t think this was anything extreme, like a ‘bad movie,’ per se but I just wasn’t that involved. I actually left the theater liking it far more than I do now. I guess you could say Carol just doesn’t have much staying power. Thanks for reading me!

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