Tuesday, April 24, 2018
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Review: 'Carol' richly nostalgic with top performances from Blanchett and Mara

BY STEVE PERSALL

Times Movie Critic

Todd Haynes' Carol shares its repressed 1950s era and meticulous period detail with his previous Far from Heaven. Haynes is a sucker for Sirkian melodrama, three-tissue weepers centered by fabulous women enduring their men.

Carol takes that dynamic farther into same-sex relationships, while remaining as dramatically fragile as those damp tissues. Haynes designs a perfectly nostalgic sensory experience — something like a Manhattan department store window — needing a suppler story to sell.

Girl meets girl, girl loses girl because of archly oppressive men, girl may get girl back. Topping it off, Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, working from a Patricia Highsmith novel, aren't entirely convincing about this couple's worth together. These are flawed characters in a movie further flawed to put viewers squarely on their side.

First and foremost, Carol showcases two of 2015's better performances: Golden Globes nominees Cate Blanchett in the title role; and Rooney Mara as her younger object of affection. Both are draped in swooning fashion, adored by Edward Lachmann's fussy camera, caressed by Carter Burwell's melancholy musical score and let down by Nagy's script.

Blanchett's Carol Aird is a socialite first spied across a toy department at Christmas time by Therese Belivet (Mara), a shop girl immediately drawn to her elegant beauty. Therese doesn't recognize Carol's sophisticated cruising; her eagerness for innocently personal information, an over-the-shoulder smile. Or maybe Therese does.

Each woman has unsatisfying men in their lives. For Carol it's soon-to-be ex-husband Arch (Kyle Chandler), an aptly named denier of anything to make her unhappy. He wants complete custody of their daughter; a previous affair is his legal ammunition. That Carol was sleeping with another woman makes his case foolproof at this intolerant time.

Arch is an alcoholic, emotionally abusive and cutthroat intrusive, it turns out, to be certain that Carol suffers. Therese's male companions aren't belligerent but just as stifling, wanting her to conform to what is expected of women, from easy sex to marriage and kids.

Blanchett magnificently seduces and suffers, her slitted, twinkling gaze not shifting much for either. She's an actor who would be entirely at home in the era Haynes replicates, when gestures were grander expressions and line readings less casual. Carol's allure is faintly predatory, given the age difference, but unmistakable.

Mara is quieter, and we await the mouse roaring in Highsmith's story, like one of her Tom Ripley books. She doesn't, keeping her motivations and wishes closer to the vest until a final shot one can interpret as love conquering all. Haynes wants that believed but after the trials and selfishness he puts them through, it may be a yellow flag.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Todd Haynes' Carol shares its repressed 1950's era and meticulous period detail with his previous Far from Heaven. Haynes is a sucker for Sirkian melodrama, three tissue-box weepers centered by fabulous women enduring their men.

Carol takes that dynamic further into same-sex relationships, while remaining as dramatically fragile as those damp tissues. Haynes designs a perfectly nostaglic sensory experience — something like a Manhattan department store window — needing a suppler story to sell.

Girl meets girl, girl loses girl because of archly oppressive men, girl may get girl back. Topping it off, Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, working from a Patricia Highsmith novel, aren't entirely convincing about this couple's worth together. These are flawed characters in a movie further flawed to put viewers squarely on their side.

First and foremost, Carol showcases two of 2015's better performances: Golden Globes nominees Cate Blanchett in the title role; and Rooney Mara as her younger object of affection. Both are draped in swooning fashion, adored by Edward Lachmann's fussy camera, caressed by Carter Burwell's melancholy musical score and let down by Nagy's script.

Blanchett's Carol Aird is a socialite first spied across a toy department at Christmas time, by Therese Belivet (Mara), a shopgirl immediately drawn to her elegant beauty. Therese doesn't recognize Carol's sophisticated cruising; her eagerness for innocently personal information, an over-the-shoulder smile. Or maybe Therese does.

Each woman has unsatisfying men in their lives. For Carol it's soon-to-be ex-husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), an aptly named denier of anything to make her unhappy. He wants complete custody of their daughter; a previous affair is his legal ammunition. That Carol was sleeping with another woman makes his case foolproof at this intolerant time.

Harge is an alcoholic, emotionally abusive and cutthroat intrusive, it turns out, to be certain that Carol suffers. Therese's male companions aren't belligerent but just as stifling, wanting her to conform to what is expected of women, from easy sex to marriage and kids.

Blanchett magnificently seduces and suffers, her slitted, twinkling gaze not shifting much for either. She's an actor who would be entirely at home in the era Haynes replicates, when gestures were grander expressions and line readings less casual. Carol's allure is faintly predatory, given the age difference, but unmistakable.

Mara is quieter, and we await the mouse roaring in Highsmith's story, like one of her Tom Ripley books. She doesn't, keeping her motivations and wishes closer to the vest until a final shot one can interpret as love conquering all. Haynes wants that believed but after the trials and selfishness he puts them through, it may be a yellow flag.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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