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New Release Review - CAROL

A twenty-something store clerk falls for an older socialite in the stuffy world of 1950s America.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Todd Haynes

Starring: Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Cate Blanchett, Kyle Chandler


"The meticulousness of his images leave you in no doubt that their director is in love with Carol and Therese, but you're ultimately left unconvinced of their feelings for each other."





Nostalgia obsessive Todd Haynes returns to the world of mid century Americana, which he mined to great effect in his Douglas Sirk homage Far From Heaven and the HBO mini series adaptation of James M Cain's Mildred Pierce. In Carol (an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt) it's the early 1950s, the centrefold of the 20th century, and Haynes' protagonists are trapped beneath the staples. For middle Americans in 1952, the '60s, with its social and sexual revolutions, feels a long way off.
Those protagonists are Therese (Rooney Mara), a twenty-something clerk in a New York department store, and the titular Carol (Cate Blanchett), a forty-something socialite who pops into the former's workplace one day, changing both women's lives forever. Therese, stuck in a relationship with a dullard boyfriend, is swept away by the charm and grace of the older, sophisticated woman, who invites her to spend Sunday at her upstate mansion in return for Therese's help in delivering a gift. Though initially keeping their feelings to themselves, Carol and Therese fall for each other. Taking a trip together that sees them shadowed by detectives hired by Carol's husband (Kyle Chandler), there's only so many twin rooms they can share before the inevitable consummation of their romance.
In a movie that's otherwise refined and nuanced, Carol features a blunt moment early on in which Therese establishes her latent lesbian credentials by confessing to preferring train sets over dolls as a child. The film itself is a lot like a train set - it's beautiful to look at but difficult to get involved with. At some point, most kids who own train sets end up purposely causing a wreck, driven to boredom by the repetitive nature of their shiny, mechanical toy. You wish Haynes would similarly shake things up with Carol, but the movie keeps a distance from its characters to such a degree that it becomes difficult to believe in the central relationship. One could argue Haynes is reflecting the restrained storytelling of the time, but an explicit sex scene midway scuppers that thesis.
You get the impression Haynes is one of those parents who buys their kids toys but then refuses to allow them to take them out of their packaging. Carol and Therese may remove their clothes, but they remain wrapped in a protective casing, with Haynes pushing a visual metaphor to breaking point by constantly framing his women behind the glass of windscreens, store windows and phone booths. Mara and Blanchett give performances that are individually impressive, but there's little in the way of heat between the pair, and you're always aware that you're watching straight performers going 'gay for pay'. The meticulousness of his images leave you in no doubt that their director is in love with Carol and Therese, but you're ultimately left unconvinced of their feelings for each other.
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