Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Carrie Brownstein
Directed By: Todd Haynes
An oddly unrewarding film that creates a paradox for the reviewer. Is it a good film? Is it a bad film? Is it film? Is it for a mainstream audience? A gay audience? Where does Carol fit into the pantheon of films released in 2015. It’s actually a harder question than you may think.
Carol follows the story of two women navigating their way through life, while also trying to figure out if there’s something between them. We meet them at a point in their lives, one is older (Blanchett) than the other (Mara), and in many ways it works as a “slice of life” film, but also as a romance. The plot structure is there, and because we come and go in such a seemingly brief period of time, it also could be seen as very slice of life-y. It is remarkably aesthetically pleasing. Everything from the costume design to the cinematography is excellent. The score is hauntingly well done. And the cast? Well, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett hit high marks.
It’s not really a “rewarding” film. Unlike Room, which is another difficult and dark film, I didn’t feel any “triumph of the human spirit”, or even a basic “Man, I’m glad I watched that” when I was done. I can’t deny that I watched a good film, but I can’t also say I’d ever want to watch Carol again. It’s one of those films that makes me wonder who it was made for. The artistic film community types who really believe that film is the leading art form, or for mass audiences, who will follow the Oscar buzz and enjoy a romantic drama over the holidays? I can’t imagine this plays well with mass audiences. Sometimes, when you choose to be this dark, and leave viewers without a happy ending, viewers leave feeling unfulfilled. As much as I wanted to like Carol, I can’t help but feel let down by it.
On top of that, if we’re being honest, while both Mara and Blanchett were good, neither were at their “best”. This was not Blanchett’s Blue Jasmine or Mara’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This is another notch in their belt, but I wouldn’t pick either as the performance of the year.
Carol is the kind of film that all the critics love, but the audiences don’t. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see it with a Best Picture nomination, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was snubbed either. It’s a very perplexing experience that I’m not sure I even fully understand yet. Maybe in 10 years, I’ll revisit Carol and see what I think. Todd Haynes has a way of doing this with his film, creating dark masterpieces that you wonder if you’ll ever want to see again. While I praise him for that, this was an incredibly strong year in film where films were able to be dark and still come out leaving the viewer with something special. As beautifully shot as Carol is, it falls short of being extraordinary.
FINAL GRADE: B