This review will be full of spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the film yet, stop reading. This film got a wide release into theaters January 15, so there’s no excuse.
This movie was directed by Todd Haynes. That speaks volume to how the movie is set up and functions. It’s an art house film that makes you think so be prepared. It keeps you on your toes in some portions, but the majority of the film is spent fleshing out the characters and depicting what life was like in the 1950’s. This movie looks fantastic. It appears to be shot in 35 mm film in my not so expert opinion. The film shows grain and the color patterns capture the time period well. Reflection shots are also used heavily to show the characters looking into their lives and forgetting about the outside world. Or looking into the city and just having lights flash in front of their faces.
This film is a little different from other Todd Haynes films because it’s a love story. It’s not a typical Hollywood love story or even one you’d expect to see in an used book store. It just feels “real”. Each shot of the characters having to contain their emotions and careful shots of characters examining their next moves in order to hide their relationship shows Haynes masterful craft in making sure each shot is perfect.
The set design and ambiance of the film are nearly perfect. The scene of Eisenhower’s inauguration speech accurately describe the time without a big flashing “1953” at any point in the film. Before said scene there were a few “Vote Ike” posters in the back to keep the audience guessing on exact dates but knowing pretty well when the film is taking place. The colors that Haynes uses are well chosen and thoughtful. The clothes and cars fit the time period and the city feel like they would in that time period. I mentioned the reflection shots earlier and they might be my favorite part of the film. Not only do they express the thoughts of the characters and begin flashbacks, but they also show the city. The lights of the city can be seen through the reflection and they do a good job setting tone. The wide angle shots are used when the characters are out in the open and not in the city show how dense the city is too. Rarely does Haynes use wide angle shots in the city to show how close together buildings and people are. It’s a wonderful technique and along with the color and “graininess”, I felt like I was in early 1950’s New York City.
Cate Blanchett, who has worked with Haynes on previous projects, delivers an excellent performance. She plays a wealthy woman who has a secret. That secret is that she has lesbian tendencies. This is a huge issue in this period and is still debated to this day (I concede that it’s a little less debated after the Supreme Court case). The film does a great job showing the balance of her relationships falling apart. She holds onto her childhood crush, but in doing so, creates tension in her relationship. Blanchett is very expressive in every action and you can feel her love growing for Mara as the film progresses. If I had to choose, I would say that she is the lead because the film follows her life very closely.
Rooney Mara also plays a very great part. She plays a store clerk who is pretty shy and reserved until she meets Carol (Blanchett). Mara then looks at her life and realizes that she wants more in life. Mara’s character is hard to read at times and it makes people judge her quickly in my opinion. My friends that I saw it with described her as simple and plain. I disagree. I think she might have more depth than any other character just because the audience does not know her desires for large portions of the film. Her main desires are getting into photography and after the halfway point of the film really shows her desire to be with Carol.
The supporting characters are where the weak spots of film appear. The husband of Carol is played by Kyle Chandler and Abby, Carol’s longtime secret love interest, is played by Sarah Paulson. Both character play excellent parts and help fully flesh out Blanchett’s character. They give real performances and you end up wanting the best for them. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Mara’s love main interest played by Jake Lacy. He looks the part, but for some reason, I just feel like he doesn’t belong. Carrie Brownstein also made an appearance and played a very good part.
Where this movie stands apart is Hayne’s ability to tell the story in such a way that you don’t actually end up rooting for one character over the other. Carol and Therese (Mara) aren’t the most likeable characters. Carol is willing to destroy her marriage and separate from child. She acts entitled as she leaves the city with money that isn’t hers. Therese feels apathetic in every relationship and uses other people to get higher in her career. She uses her boyfriend’s friend to get in with the Times. I ended up rooting for Carol and Therese just because I wanted them to be happy in a time where they couldn’t be. It sort of worked out as they ended up choosing each other in the end. Carol’s husband is the most likeable character because he just cares. He wants everyone to be happy and do everything in his power. In a time when women were thought of as second class citizens, he could have cut off Carol at any point and made her live in the projects. Instead, he lets her discover herself.
The social issues addressed are also interesting and well thought out. It’s interesting to see how promiscuous you could be in the “older” days just because of how little viewership those issues had. Two women could realistically travel the states and stay in hotels because no one thought about it. An unmarried couple would actually be looked more down upon than a secret lesbian couple.
Overall, this film is my favorite of 2015. It was interesting and well thought out. I can’t wait to see what Todd Haynes does next.
Score: 10 out of 10