2015 seems to be the year for old-fashioned dramas. First there was “Brooklyn,” the sweet, simple story of a young Irish girl who immigrates to 1950s New York and finds love. Now there’s “Carol,” a simple love story also set in 1950s New York—although it is of a much different nature.
Directed by Todd Haynes, “Carol” stars Rooney Mara as Therese, an aimless young woman who works in a department store but wants to be a photographer, who has a devoted boyfriend who wants to take her to France but doesn’t want to marry him. Then one day at work she meets Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a glamorous older woman who is at the store looking for a Christmas gift for her daughter. The two experience an instant connection, and soon Carol invites Therese to lunch, under the pretense of wanting to thank her for all her help obtaining the gift. Their relationship gradually builds, as Therese finds herself loving Carol as she has never loved anyone before. Meanwhile, Carol is going through a hard divorce and fighting for custody of her child—a battle she is losing thanks to an affair she had with her female best friend, and now because of her relationship with Therese.
“Carol” is a beautiful film. Haynes carefully frames every scene, every close-up, in a way that truly captures their emotions. He also captures the period in a lovely way. It isn’t as Technicolor bright as the aforementioned “Brooklyn;” in fact, it’s rather dark, with soft, subtle lighting that sometimes makes the characters appear to glow.
The story hinges greatly on the performances of the leads, and unsurprisingly—given the track record of both Blanchett and Mara—they are wonderful. Mara perfectly conveys Therese’s obvious attraction to Carol combined with her uncertainty about her feelings. Blanchett’s Carol, being the older, more experienced one of the relationship, often appears much more confident, cool, and assertive. But then there are those moments when she isn’t with Therese, when she’s at her lawyer’s offices fighting for custody of her child, or at home sparring with her soon-to-be ex-husband (played by Kyle Chandler, who is fantastic in that he doesn’t make his character come off as a hateful person, but rather someone filled with regret by the behavior of a wife he still loves), when she entirely comes undone. The rest of the supporting cast is remarkable as well, including Sarah Paulson as Carol’s friend Abby and Cory Michael Smith as an unsavory character Therese and Carol meet while on a road trip.
In fact, this almost could be considered a sort of road trip movie, as the bulk of the essential scenes in Therese and Carol’s relationship happen on a trip they take together to Chicago. But “Carol” is so much more that than, presented in such a neat, simple little package. There’s nothing fancy here: just a good filmmaker, a smart, moving script, and a talented cast, come together to make a compelling drama that is already standing out this awards season.
Runtime: 118 minutes. Rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language.
“Carol” begins playing at the Plaza Frontenac Cinema on Thursday, December 24. Click here for more info and showtimes.