Carol Review: Stylish But Sparkless Romance

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In a year where massive ground has been broken in equality for the LGBT community, it seems appropriate to have a film in this blossoming sub-genre be a major contender in the awards conversation. Weirdly, it also seems appropriate that this genre start producing more modest fare.

Carol is a quiet period piece about a forbidden romance and the politics of a troublesome divorce. Theress (Rooney Mara) meets Carol (Cate Blanchett) in as mundane a way you can imagine. But from that moment, these two women must either embark on a liberating journey or continue to lock themselves in the closet.

Blanchett is assuredly wonderful and Mara charms, but the chemistry between the two never quite finds its spark. This is the film’s biggest and most damning problem. The filmmakers seem to feel restricted by the mood of the early 1950s, when the story takes place, and don’t dare to challenge the women’s romance beyond connections they merely say they have.

The film is much more interesting when exploring Carol’s battle for custody with her husband (Kyle Chandler) and the legal hurdles she must overcome simply because of her sexual preferences. But the absolute best thing about Carol is the friendship between the titular lead and her former lover Abby (Sarah Paulson). Abby provides the very support an LGBT person would have needed in this period. She’s a rock, while the layers of their friendship and history crackle on screen.

But still, so much of the film is rooted in a romance that just never quite takes off. By the end, you’re rooting for them to get together not because having them not would be tragic, but because they are better than no one. For all the things Carol gets right, with its lovely score, costumes, and camera work, it gets this one big thing wrong, dooming it to be forgettable. I suspect that in 20 years, Carol will be nary a mention next to such beautiful displays of same-sex love in films like The Kids are All Right and Blue is the Warmest ColorGrade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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