James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
Todd Haynes’ latest film, CAROL, is a love story for all time that’s filled with desire and untapped sexuality. Something as a simple smell of perfume or a touch on the shoulder can send shivers down your spine. Taking place in the McCarthy era of 1950s New York City, it’s the quiet moments of coveting that make CAROL the sexiest film we never knew we needed.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) are two disparate women in two different places in their lives before developing a relationship that goes deeper than just using words to communicate. Therese is a mousey “shopgirl” working in a local department store when she helps out the elegantly confident Carol purchase a train set for her little girl. They exchange pleasantries and maybe a little mild flirtation, but Haynes keeps their interaction fairly benign for a good chunk of the run-time.
CAROL is an incredibly articulate film in terms of the character moments that are subtle with their execution yet boisterous in their meaning. The two women in question have an innate connection that won’t come easy and more than likely it will have a hefty price tag. The taboo essence of the subject matter is flushed away by the complex visuals of the period piece and when the sexuality is finally embraced, it’s not only jarring but satisfying– and that’s impressive for a film that isn’t overtly trying to titillate the audience.
Both women are involved in their respective relationships. One has the potential to blossom and the other is wilting by the minute. A credit to Haynes is how he and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy counter the male dynamic in a film, which is so outwardly marketed as feminine. Carol’s husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), is the bread-winner and chief obstructor of his wife’s day-in, day-out happenings. His masculinity has been truncated ever since Carol had a one-night fling with her best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson). From the perspective of a male viewer, Harge isn’t a misogynist just for the sake of keeping his wife on a string, he’s completely uneducated and literally can’t fathom the feelings his wife is having– in other words, he’s a product of his generation.
For Therese, it’s about making a decision that SHE feels comfortable with. So many women around here are being pressured into settling down with a beau that is an adequate suitor, and the only requirements are the proper genitalia and a job. She’s being casually courted by Richard (Jake Lacy), who is going through the motions to woo her into wifehood, but she’s got other plans– she just isn’t aware of them quite yet. The addition of these antiquated men juxtaposed against the blossoming relationship between Therese and Carol gives us psychosexual drama without beating melodrama over the audience’s head.
In a time where it was frowned upon to embrace your sexuality, CAROL is about body language rather than verbal. Mara and Blanchett are spectacular in their roles and are masters of restraint. Each of the women are going through a rebirth so to speak, but that comes at a price, complete with growing pains. When you think CAROL is going to be one type of film, Haynes pivots the story and makes a 180. It’s a gripping romance that is relatable, sexy and utterly fascinating to witness unfold.
Working with cinematographer Edward Lachman (ERIN BROCKOVICH), he uses period appropriate 16mm film. The grainy images add to this completely engrossing drama. While CAROL isn’t a novel concept for Oscar season, it remains to be completely genuine in its intentions and regal in execution.
CAROL held its regional premiere at the Lonestar Film Festival and Houston Cinema Arts Festival. It’s having a limited release starting November 20 and will open in Dallas-Ft. Worth on Christmas Day.