I’m very pleased that the masterful director Todd Haynes is finally getting the overwhelming respect that he deserves. I’m just not certain that it’s for the right film. He’s been one of our most consistent American filmmakers for a quarter of a century now, beginning with his maverick 1991 NC-17 feature debut “Poison” in 1991, and following that up by directing a trio of incredible female performances with Julianne Moore in 1995’s “Safe”, Ms. Moore again in Haynes’ 2002 masterpiece, “Far from Heaven”, and Cate Blanchett in 2007’s “I’m Not There”. Todd even knocked it out-of-the-park, with a 2011 HBO miniseries remake of “Mildred Pierce”, which won star Kate Winslet a Best Actress Emmy AND Golden Globe. Hey, I love his work. But thematically “Carol” is the first time that I feel like Mr. Haynes is repeating himself a little bit. I like it a lot. It’s simply not as revelatory as his earlier stuff.
It’s the early 1950’s in America, the so-called innocent, prosperous, post-War period of the Eisenhower years. New York area Carol Aird (the always strong Cate Blanchett) appears to have it all. She’s beautiful and always exquisitely dressed. She’s married to a successful man, resides in a huge house in an affluent suburb, and is mother to an adorable little girl. But Carol, it turns out, is in the process of divorcing Harge Aird (a fine Kyle Chandler), proving that things are not always as they appear on the surface. While shopping one day in a Manhattan department store, Carol accidentally leaves her gloves on the counter, when chatting with pretty young shop girl, Therese (an extraordinary, and extremely poised, Rooney Mara). In an unsatisfying relationship herself, Therese becomes fast friends with Carol after returning her lost items, finding common ground with her, and even seeming to look to the older woman as a sort of mentor. But soon the relationship of the two women becomes incredibly complicated.
If you are even a little bit familiar with the resume of Todd Haynes, you’ve probably already figured out where this story line is going. And I felt that was part of the problem. Maybe blame it on an over familiarity with the work of the director. But most of “Carol” is so good, and so patient, and even remarkably daring at times, that I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike it. On the contrary, I’m well aware that it’s better than 90 percent of what’s out there. It’s just that I feel like I’ve been down this road with Todd Haynes before. However, expect the accolades for “Carol” to keep coming–and they’re mostly deserved. Mr. Haynes direction is extremely intuitive and precise in his sixth official feature. Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay, based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt, is wonderfully written. The Carter Burwell score is perfect, and all of the acting is divine. Okay, maybe Ms. Blanchett is a bit too obvious…but she’s still mesmerizing. Rooney Mara is the real standout though, in the decidedly more difficult role of Therese. She’s outstanding. So, while it would be easy for me to simply parrot the overwhelming praise that “Carol” has already received, at this standing, the film will probably justmiss my 2015 Ten Best of the year list. But I’m hoping for some fruitful repeat viewings.
next review up: “Spotlight”