Director Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Far From Heaven) has a knack for casting fantastic lead actresses. Having worked with both Julianne Moore and now Cate Blanchett twice, Haynes knows how to elevate the story and bring forth a film that is centralized around the lives of these women. The last couple of years have been especially tough on the romance genre, with many films not quite making the cut. Carol, however, stands out from the pack in a romance film that is bittersweet, beautiful to look at, and boasts great performances from its cast.
Set in the 1950s, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is a shy department store clerk who doesn’t quite know what she wants out of life or herself. Enter Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), an older, sophisticated woman who walks into Therese’s department story. Carol is charmed by Therese and leaves her gloves on the counter so that the two meet again. Upon their first meeting, there is an immediate charge in the air which ricochets between the two women. And of course, both women come with baggage: Therese has a boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who wants very much to settle down with Therese, while she has one foot clearly out the door. Carol has a family, a daughter she adores and a husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler) who has found out that she likes women and wants to hurt Carol by taking away their daughter.
Carol is perhaps one of the most loving and touching romantic stories you’ll see all year. There is something innocently sweet, but mature about the relationship between the two women, and it’s endearing and emotional to watch unfold. The era the film is set in brings to light the difficulties of showing a romantic love for someone of the same sex, and it’s very much displayed here. As if being a woman isn’t difficult enough, with certain responsibilities and behavioral patterns always in question and under judgment, Carol manages to blend in the difficulties of being in a relationship along with the hardships of fitting into a certain kind of role. Director Todd Haynes does this thoughtfully and non-too-harshly.
Cate Blanchett is, and always has been, a superb actress. Her natural poise and sophistication are on display. As Carol, she is a woman who clearly knows what, and who, she wants, but also knows to give Rooney Mara’s character space to make her own decisions and not be pressured by her. Mara, on the other hand, portrays all the insecurities of her character. However, her character is relatable and not a complete pushover. She’s a woman on the verge of self-discovery and allows her relationship with Carol to help her blossom into the person she wants to be.
Not only is the story and romance beautiful, but so it’s enhanced by the gorgeous cinematography. The film looks like an old photograph, the colors faded into deeper shades of what they once were. The costume, hair and makeup department create an authentic ‘50s look that pulls you right into the era, but the film is filled with such intensity and great characters that you’ll always feel like an outsider looking in. Carol is a brazen love story that is brave enough to be set in another time and place and is passionate as hell. A superbly executed film, most especially in terms of writing and characters.