Directed by Todd Haynes
Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler
What could easily be seen as a standard period drama, director Todd Haynes sculpts into a delectable treat of visual and performance art. It would be remiss of anyone to write Carol off as anything short of extraordinary, slow-burning cinematic magic. While an argument can be made for Rooney Mara as the film's true star, Cate Blanchett offers a perfect example of why she should be regarded as one of Hollywood's modern legends.
Therese Belivet (Mara) is a department-store clerk caught up in the motions of everyday life. She is uninterested in her relationship with her long-time boyfriend (Jake Lacy). She feels trapped by her day to day salesmanship. A sudden interaction with a beautiful and intriguing housewife changes things almost immediately.
Carol Aird (Blanchett) is equally as troubled and tormented with her day to day life. A married woman, her interactions with her husband (Kyle Chandler) are biting and mean. If it were not for their daughter, the two would have ended things long before now. In the midst of a nasty divorce, Carol finds solace in exploring her desires, both physical and emotional, while also being careful to remain observant of the litigation and familial differences she must face throughout the holiday season.
The budding friendship between Therese and Carol culminates in an impromptu road trip out west, muddled in sensual discussions and eventual relations. Therese is seemingly innocent and driven, while Carol takes on the protagonist role of relationship leader. There's a spark between the two that is at one point beautiful, but also tainted by society around them and the baggage Carol is pretending to ignore.
Director Haynes has proven before that he is capable of delivering stories with possible controversial undertones without giving much merit to the controversy at all. In Far From Heaven, the stellar performances of the cast and the beautiful images are no doubt inspired by classics like Imitation of Life in both tone and delivery. The same goes for Carol, which leaves no stylized detail untouched, from hair and makeup to set dressing and cinematography. It's easy to believe these characters could exist in a film produced at the same time it is set.
Blanchett and Mara deliver subtle and quiet turns as Carol and Therese, allowing the relationship's stigma to build as their passions increase. Mara, especially, holds her head high in a timeless fashion that brings to mind a young Audrey Hepburn.
Carol isn't as emotionally draining for the audience as it is for the characters, but it is compelling enough to feel more than complete once the credits begin to roll. There's a certain plateau to the story's arc that allows for a certain realness that's hard to come by.
Blanchett delivers the line "Just when it can't get any worse, you run out of cigarettes" that should become iconic in a Sunset Blvd. sort of way.
Runtime: 118 minutes