Two words come to mind when you think of ‘Carol’ – awards and lesbians. Granted, the film is, and should be, recognised for much more than this, but the main talk surrounding this Todd Haynes film is “Oscars-talk”. Much of that buzz is thanks to the performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and with the JumpCut UK Film Awards coming up, I felt compelled to see ‘Carol’ before casting my votes.
Beautifully set in the 1950s with stunning authenticity, ‘Carol’ tells the story of a woman called – you guessed it – Carol (Blanchett). In the midst of a divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), it quickly becomes clear what the differences (or rather complicated similarities) may be that are causing problems in the marriage; Carol likes women. Whilst doing a spot of Christmas shopping, Carol meets Therese Belivet (Mara) and embarks on a mission of predatory proportions to take this timid young girl and turn her into an empowered lover.
The absolute highlight of this film is indeed those two performances from the leading ladies. The seasoned Blanchett delivers a powerful display, combining a delightful air of authority and passion, with a deep-rooted struggle to achieve true independence, as she navigates her way through a tricky divorce. Whilst it was a joy to see Blanchett’s charm and enigmatic qualities shine through, it was in the moments of desperation and difficulty where you could really see her Oscars campaign gain momentum. Opposite her, Rooney Mara is equally as impressive, albeit in a much more subtle manner. She pulls off the naive young girl act emphatically, with an almost heart-wrenching attachment to her troubled lover. But again, her chances of an Academy Award nomination are improved during her rarer moments of sensibility; a convincing balancing act between temptation and pride.
Todd Haynes too appears to be taking care of his own balancing act when it comes to the filmmaking aspect here. Unfortunately, I think ‘Carol’ is far more style over substance, with the narrative lacking any real intrigue or lasting impact. It is a reasonably interesting story, and by no means was my attention waning at the time, but a couple of days later and I am no longer concerned with the tribulations of these characters. That said, the whole film does look impeccable, and for that, I believe Todd Haynes will probably be recognised by The Academy. With a great use of light and colour, contrasts of rural and urban settings and intelligent camera angles, ‘Carol’ is undoubtedly a nice-looking film, and that alone is worth the effort to track this film down.
I probably won’t ever watch ‘Carol’ again, largely due to the thin plot, but I’m very pleased that I did manage to catch it. This isn’t one for the history books, or even the chat at the water cooler (do people still do that?), but it does have The Oscars written all over it, so expect to hear more about this film come February.
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler