I was, in all honesty, dreading Carol a little bit before I watched it. Despite the famous director (Todd Haynes) and superb cast (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both of whom are up for Oscars in a couple of weeks), it seemed like one of those slow, boring movies I could find myself dozing off in. The word of mouth I’ve been privy to has been polarising — some said they regretted watching it, while others lamented why it was snubbed for the Best Picture Oscar.
And so I am kind of shocked to say that I actually really liked Carol. Perhaps not to the extent that I feel the movie was snubbed by the Academy Awards for Best Picture, but it certainly exceeded my expectations and pulled a few heart strings along the way. That said, I’m still of the opinion that the overwhelming critical praise is overrating the film a little bit, and my guess is that critics factored in the historical significance of the source material (Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 groundbreaking semi-biographical novel) when formulating their reviews.
At its core, Carol is quite a simple love story between a young, aspiring photographer, Therese (Rooney Mara) and an older, married woman, the titular Carol (Cate Blanchett). But back in the 1950s, homosexuality was considered a medical condition that could be cured through psychotherapy, and many women didn’t even know what the word “lesbian” meant.
Admittedly, Carol is a slow-paced film that requires a lot of patience and attention before reaping the emotional rewards. If it loses you at the beginning it might be a struggle to get through the rest of it, but if the film manages to hook you through the enticing chemistry of its lead stars, you may end up falling for its subtle romantic charm like I did.
The reason why romance is probably my least favourite movie genre is because it’s so hard to get it right. Infusing a film with the right characters and requisite passion to get audiences to care — usually in under two hours — without making it feel contrived or melodramatic or saccharine, is a tall task indeed. And so it is a true testament to the entire crew — from Hayne to screenwriter Phyllis Nagy to the cast — that the dialogue, the character interactions, and thus the attraction and romance, comes across as so natural. The result is a love story that’s perhaps not as intense or dramatic as that of Brokeback Mountain or Blue is the Warmest Color, though for me it’s every bit as genuine and emotionally engrossing as those films.
From a technical standpoint, the film is also beautifully crafted — the look and feel of the era is perfectly captured by the sets and the costumes — and even the excellent cinematography and music score play important roles in the overall production.
Still, the film wouldn’t have worked without the two outstanding central performances. It’s a little strange that Mara was nominated for Best Supporting Actress while Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress — it probably should have been the other way around or both should have been in the Best Actress category — but there’s no denying that both deserve to be recognised by the Oscars for their remarkably nuanced portrayals. Mara, in particular, is as good as I’ve seen her in anything, and now that I’ve seen all the Best Supporting Actress nominee films I’d say she gets my vote (though Alicia Vikander will probably win).
The supporting cast, by the way, is also fantastic. Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy and co all deliver effective performances that do Mara and Blanchett’s efforts justice.
Having said all that, I don’t think Carol is a spectacular film. It’s a little too slow and understated for my liking, though I connected with the central romance and appreciate that it is exquisitely made and fueled by Oscar-worthy performances. This is one of the rare instances where, for a film that has largely divided critics and mainstream audiences, I find myself siding — for the most part — with the critics.
4 stars out of 5