Carol is a rather low key example of the recurring trend of LGBTQ love stories from older time periods for the Oscar season. Yet, unlike many of those films that aim more for the issue of the time, Carol wisely decides to aim for such a love story firmly from a character basis that allows the LGBTQ element to breath naturally. It’s appropriate to speak about the nature of the central love story, given the setting of 1952 when such action would be considered highly taboo and even illegal in some places for the era. However, the romance that builds in Carol isn’t one steeped in explicit passion and pronounced joy, deciding to go for a more muted exploration that comes from character rather than issue. It’s one that thrives when it’s downplayed, through gazes and soft caresses. The titular character as beautifully performed by Cate Blanchett is only at her most jovial when she’s with her daughter, a beacon of love that she feels most comfortable expressing open affection for. Her and Rooney Mara’s romance is one that brings comfort behind closed doors, one that both feel compelled to hide for fear of losing what little they have.
There’s a tragedy there. A complex one that serves as a quiet 180 from the more openly exciting same sex romances of our modern era. There’s a beauty in the understated nature of Blanchett and Mara’s performances, making each small moment of connection matter far more. These are two people who can’t express who they are, not just because of the society they live in for Blanchett but in Mara’s case because she’s not sure about this side of herself. She’s discovering who she is, but is also conflicted about what revealing that side could do for those around her. Mara’s journey is one of quiet realization that her needs truly matter, through a progressive self confidence that manages to temper and evolve naturally. Yet, Blanchett’s Carol isn’t treated like some sort of “manic pixie dream lesbian” that’ll immediately open Mara to who she is. There’s a struggle there, one that’s full of distrust and one that isn’t even fully solved by the narrative’s end. Director Todd Haynes takes that limited interaction and allows it to flourish in gorgeous glimmers, particularly during one car ride between the two that serves as an instantly relatable metaphor for the queasy beauty of falling for each other.
That’s not to say this isn’t without a few quibbles. Most of them mainly come toward the end of the second act where there’s a sort of meandering nature to story, drifting certain intriguing side characters like Sarah Paulson or Kyle Chandler to drift and rarely get any sort of time to play off the aspects of their personalities. There’s also a conflict that manages to force a sort of romantic comedy style end of the second act, leading Carol along a seemingly predictable line to an inevitable resolution. Yet, the genius of Phyllis Nagy’s script is that this low simmering story never goes for the more exaggerated approaches to this situation. The emotions are real, the reactions are grounded and most of the beats are remarkably relatable. Carol may be understated, but what speaks loudest about it is the emotional honesty and small moments of human connectivity.
Date Seen: 1/13/16
Rating: 4 out of 5 Blurry Lensed Car Rides