Todd Haynes’ Carol could almost be a companion piece to his 2002 film Far From Heaven which starred Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert which centered on a Connecticut housewife’s discovery that her husband is at bare minimum bisexual all while she has to contend with the fact that she’s attracted to her African-American gardener.
While it certainly dealt with similar themes, Carol, which stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara takes a different tone in that it’s more or less a sweet straight forward love story. Haynes focuses on Carol Aird (Blanchett), a woman living a comfortable life in the New York City suburbs during the 1950s. Carol’s got a secret – one that’s not spoken of by proper folk of the time. She’s a lesbian.
Her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) caught her having an affair with her best friend – one that she’s broken off. They are currently separated and embroiled in a divorce where he’s threatened to out her and keep her from her daughter.
Therese (Mara) notices her department at the store where she works. They have a moment. That moment leads to a blossoming friendship. But Carol still must deal with Harge and his insistence that they work things out for the sake of their daughter and appearances for his socialite parents.
And Therese? She suffers no such complications, but she’s a young woman still learning who she is as a person and that includes her sexuality. She’s reticent at first with Carol, but soon sees that they have shared interests.
Those interests lead to the duo taking a platonic road trip where they eventually land in Chicago on New Year’s Eve. During the trip, reality creeps in and forces Carol’s hand with respect to her life and choices.
But those choices leave Therese in an emotional quandary. The trip fundamentally changed who she is revealing a different person. How she moves forward is key.
Haynes’ approach to this love story and its repercussions proves remarkably restrained in his approach to his story, which he also wrote. He treats Carol like a typical love story – one with obstacles, albeit substantially different ones.
Blanchett and Mara possess chemistry, bringing to the front some honest, raw emotions. They’re not overwrought, just honest.
Haynes’ script and direction, though plodding at times, remain on point and are generally crisp. Some will proclaim Carol the best film of the year. I can see how that is a possibility and it certainly merits a look, but with Haynes’ subtle hand comes a certain dispassionate tone that makes the film seem cold.
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Rated: R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language
Running time: 118 minutes
Check for theaters and showtimes at the Cedar-Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights for an exclusive engagement beginning Christmas Day.