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Film Review: "Carol” by Don Gibble


Film Review: "Carol”
by Don Gibble 

By Don Gibble

Sonoma County movielovers, the best written movie of the year has arrived! Outstanding performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, as two women charting a path toward a romantic relationship in 1952, make something special out of “Carol”, Todd Haynes’ intelligent adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s then-daring 1952 novel “The Price of Salt”. In many ways a companion piece to the director’s “Far From Heaven”, which also examined the pressures of living a sexual double life in post-World War II America, the new film is absorbing and beautifully crafted.

      Highsmith’s second novel, published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, was something of a sensation in gay and lesbian literary circles due to its happy ending in an era when transgressive sexual relationships were normally punished as the story concluded. The smartly judged screenplay by Phyllis Nagy retains the essential dynamics of the novel while usefully changing the younger woman’s professional interest to photography rather than theater art direction and telescoping the long cross-country road trip that occupies much of the book’s second half. 

     Set over the Christmas/New Year holiday period in 1952-53, just before the Eisenhower era began, this is a love story that is pursued – cautiously and judiciously, to be sure – through very uncertain and dangerous waters. Working in an upscale Manhattan department store, the young Therese Belivet (Mara) makes an impression on immaculately accoutered customer Carol Aird (Blanchett), who, intentionally or not, leaves her gloves behind, providing an excuse for further contact.

     Carol comes in from her castle-like New Jersey home to meet for lunch and there’s clearly an attraction, certainly on Carol’s part, and some sort of curiosity on Therese’s. The latter, who’s awfully cute and has an unsettled, go-along-type personality, scarcely lacks for male attention. Though, unlike in the novel, she hasn’t consummated anything sexually yet despite the strong interest of a couple of eager suitors.

     Haynes, continuing with ace cinematographer Ed Lachman very much in the style they employed on  their previous earlier 20th century period pieces, “Far From Heaven” and HBO”s “Mildred Pierce”, favors tight compositions that focus first and foremost on his gorgeous leading ladies. But he also highlights all the details of Judy Becker’s production design and Sandy Powell’s mid-century costumes, which are worn to splendid effect, especially by Blanchett. Dressed up Cincinnatti locations double reasonably, if not entirely satisfactorily, for New York City.

      Therese soon learns the difficult details of Carol’s existence: Her successful businessman husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) wants a divorce and threatens to take their young daughter with him, hanging over his wife’s head her long-since finished affair with her best friend, Abby (Sarah Paulson). The slightest misstep by Carol with Therese would no doubt mean Carol’s total loss of not only any custody, but even visitation rights with her daughter.

       The roughly half-as-old Therese is unformed clay, which makes her largely a reactive character most of the way. But Mara really comes into her own in the story’s latter stages as Therese realizes what she wants. Supporting performances are solid. 

       Last weekend “Star Wars: The Force Awakens: broke records making $248 million in the United States alone. The other wide release, “Sisters” made only $14 million in comparison. If you haven’t seen “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” yet, do yourself a favor and see this epic film.