Carol is a beautiful, lavish, sensual and moving love story set in the 1950s New York. It opens with a scene in a restaurant where two women are interrupted by the friend of one of them. We don’t know what’s going in the scene, yet right off the bat there’s a strange sense of intimacy between the two, and a feeling that their conversation is important. This subtle, nuanced play of emotions and mood is what’s ultimately the movie’s greatest pleasure, along with the gorgeous cinematography and period re-creation and some truly fabulous clothes.
The movie follows a slow-burn romance between Therese, a 20-something department store clerk (Rooney Mara), and Carol (Cate Blanchett), a wealthy elegant woman who is about to leave her loveless marriage. Therese has a boyfriend, but it seems to be the kind of relationship where the guy is keen on the girl, and the girl just goes along with it because she’s too aimless and indecisive to say no. Therese and Carol are immediately drawn to each other, though the younger woman doesn’t seem to understand the nature of her attraction at first, and they go from having a casual dinner to visiting each other’s homes to embarking on a road trip together. What complicates their situation is Carol’s bitter husband, who still loves her and wants her back despite being aware of her preferences, and the custody of Carol’s young daughter, which is in jeopardy because of the social mores of the day.
There are some twists and turns to the story but the movie is really all about the two central characters and their burgeoning relationship and both leads are simply amazing here. I’ve liked Rooney Mara and her enchanting, unsmiling intensity since her brief appearance in The Social Network, and she’s fantastic here as a young girl who’s figuring out what she wants in life. Cate Blanchett… well I think she’s basically a goddess as an actress and fashion icon and this is a role that’s tailor-made for her. She conveys emotion with a slightest gesture or glance and takes the viewer into the heart and mind of her character, while at the same time remaining something of a mystery that makes her even more fascinating to watch. And she looks like million dollars in those 50s clothes. I want her red coat even though I’d probably never wear quite as well.
There’s also a brief cameo by Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney fame! I can’t wait to see these ladies later this year.