Carol movie full length review - excellent acting, good movie
Carol is a story of two people, they happen to be women but they could be anybody, who find each other and find a connection and love.
It's the circumstances and timing that makes the conflicts more than anything, the external forces around Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) that makes it very difficult to be together; it's the early 1950's and even though it's the North-East (seemingly liberal terrain) it's the world of upper-middle class whiteness where things are simple and plain and heterosexual (on the surface). The core of the movie are these two women, and director Todd Haynes has two of the magnificent actors working, man or woman, working today with Blanchett and (a strikingly beautiful/adorable) Mara, and it's a pleasure to see them with full-blown chemistry.
The other question is if it's a great film, or at least one of the best of the year? Well, first of all, it is worth seeing, I'll say that for sure. What it accomplishes that surprised me is that it's not a simple Lesbian-message-love-story screed. We've had plenty of those, albeit not one maybe with some more mainstream appeal outside of the art-house world like this may and should. But I think that the interest in the more intellectual sense is that it's simply a movie about a system that keeps (or kept, maybe it still does) women without power. Case in point, Carol and her ex-husband Harge (Kyle Chandler, kind of the same as Dennis Quaid in Far From Heaven in the sense of uptight masculinity), who can't seem to agree on a custody agreement with their young daughter. Carol may lose her daughter forever because... well, she is in love with another woman? She probably would've lost custody if it was just another man. It seems like a suffocating system in this film.
And yet what I think works in terms of the content of the story of showing the trouble of this intimacy being possible - and there is intimacy here, but in a grown-up, compelling way - may not work 100% with the style. This is not to say it's not beautifully photographed; this is different work we normally don't get to see in movies with such big names, and Ed Lachmann makes it seem desaturated but pretty, like a color photograph that's faded over time (and on Super 16mm no less, kind of the same but lo-fi reverse of what Tarantino did this year in 70mm). But I felt like Haynes' direction made what was at times fascinating cinematography to also make a distance with the characters.
This may be useful to illustrate a point, about this environment. I found ultimately it took away for me what was the potential to connect with the characters. At the point I should've at least had a lump in my throat, let alone tears, when Carol and Therese have their trials and tribulations, I didn't really feel anything - nor with the ending, which I'll get to in a moment. This may be a fault on my part, and if you feel something deep and powerful here, that's more than fine, I may just be missing something. But I think it felt a little too deliberate at times, everything looks SO perfect here with the costumes and sets and place and time, and it becomes... staid, a little poised, even with the actors.
It may sound like I don't like the movie, but I did, at times very much so. There wasn't any one thing through most of the run time that took me out of the movie. I was with the journey of these women (also an interesting supporting role for Sara Paulsen, who has the kind of character detail I really appreciate to see in a story like this), and their rise and fall in such a short period of time is never less than fascinating, and Blanchett and Mara do very well in their realizations of these people as fully 3-dimensional humans. The only ones who sort of suffer character-wise are the men, even for Kyle Chandler who is giving it his all; they were slightly one-dimensional, basically there to set up bullet points or obstacles for the characters. This may also be something I missed on a first viewing, but I think this may be deliberate too: it's very much a feminist film, and that's a wonderful thing, except that it should be something where all the characters have depth, not just the women.
One last point I'd like to make is the ending. It's one of those times I'm uncertain how to feel about it; I won't spoil it, though it's more of an emotional point than anything like plot-wise. But there is a point where it should have ended (you see it near the beginning actually) and it would have added a level of mature-tragic dimension, not unlike the ending of Manhattan or something (seeing how one character grows apart from the other, but in a way that makes sense). It's ultimately a kind of happy ending, and yet I'm unsure that was the note to end on - this is 50's melodrama, and for 90% of the time it's successful by updating itself. Let me put it this way: it's a waste of Carrie Brownstein.