Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara
5 (out of 5) Globes
If this were the Sundance ’90s, Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” a film about women falling in love, would be a simple message about tolerance. In 2015 that might seem redundant, even with the pushback against legalized marriage equality. In fact, you can define “Carol” as much as by what it as by what it’s not. It’s not a political film. It’s not a way for audiences from the future to congratulate themselves on how different they are from Truman’s America. It’s not even, really, a melodrama, like previous Haynes trip to the ’50s, “Far from Heaven.”
So what’s left for “Carol” to be? The answer might not sound sexy as described. It’s a passionate yet detached study of the practicalities of love — the twisty-turny route one must navigate to form any kind of relationship, and especially a type that has so many barriers thrown up in its path. It acknowledges the prejudices and boundaries its lovers — Cate Blanchett’s society dame Carol and Rooney Mara’s lowly department store clerk Therese — face in 1952, but it treats them as they do: as obstacles to veer around through careful planning and tense but measured negotiations.
As such, “Carol” has an unusual balancing act to pull of: be clinical yet emotional. It’s not that difficult, not when your heroes are well-versed in obscuring what’s going on underneath. Blanchett plays Carol as someone always hiding behind elegance and a smirk. Rooney is her usual unreadable self, pushing the world away with a wide-eyed stare. You can watch both subtly melt in each other’s presence, body language loosening up.