Every year I kind of forget to prepare myself for the Oscar Drama genre, a subgenre of the Drama made specifically in an effort to win awards. Or maybe I just harbor some secret hope that they’ll go away one day. They won’t. I know they won’t. It’s okay. They’re not all bad.
The Plot: Lonely and aloof young 1950s department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) finds herself striking up an unusual friendship with lonely and aloof older 1950s department store patron Carol (Cate Blanchett). As Carol spirals further into a messy divorce and the wonderful world of child custody battles, Therese attempts to be as helpful a friend as she can be, whilst simultaneously tiptoeing around questions of sexuality that she’s never had to consider before.
An older, unhappy but wealthy New Yorker in the midst of a mid-life crisis finds rejuvenation in a romantic relationship with a young, nubile New Yorker of a lesser station who’s just trying to find his/her way in the world. I’m not going to waste the hours on IMDb tallying up every single romantic drama I’ve just described in that one sentence. My point is that I have seen Carol before several times. It contained nothing new for me. While I was watching it, that irritated me ever so slightly, but I’ve decided not to count that as too much of a weakness. Carol doesn’t really ever do anything wrong. It hits all the notes you’d expect it to, the direction is adequate, the script entertaining, and the performances strong.
As for its homosexual content, I feel much the same way about this film as I did about Brokeback Mountain. The genders of the characters almost don’t really matter. In Carol’s case even more so, any combination of sexes in the two protagonists would have worked just fine and probably wouldn’t have had too drastic an outcome. Both this and Brokeback Mountain focus on two people who fall in love despite other romantic entanglements, and must try to keep their affair a secret. Again, that’s pretty well-trod territory for romances. Of course, in Brokeback Mountain both of those men are married and cheating on their quite unfortunate wives. Here, Therese is only halfheartedly involved with someone and, as I mentioned, Carol is in the throes of a divorce from a man who already knows about her sexual preferences. Ultimately, the fact that they’re gay plays second fiddle to the fact that they’re in love. Some audiences will find that incredibly progressive, treating homosexuality on an even keel with heterosexuality; others will find it frustrating that the film doesn’t try to make some big statement about how hard it probably was to be a lesbian in the 1950s. In this rare case, whichever side of that argument you fall on, you’re not wrong.
Since the film doesn’t provide much overt political or historical commentary, it does kind of play out as a very standard romantic drama. A few hours after leaving the cinema, though, I decided that I didn’t mind. Average movies are as much a necessity as good ones, bad ones, and important ones. Carol is good in its execution, if average in its content. As I mentioned before, both leads deliver the quality of performance that we’ve come to expect from them. I think in my review of this year’s Cinderella I said that Cate Blanchett is “the Tilda Swinton of every movie she’s in.” Well, possibly for the first time ever, I think she has now been outshone. Rooney Mara’s performance hinges on more subtlety, more patience, and less ACTING, and is all the better for it. She does, if you’ll venture to believe it, steal the show. Now, she does usually do this anyway, but against Blanchett? I didn’t even know what to think for a while there.
Apart from Mara’s exquisite performance, I can’t see any particular reason why the film should receive as much buzz as it’s getting. It is a good movie, but I don’t think I’d call it great. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I have very little negative to say about it, but I won’t be rushing back to the cinema for a second viewing. If find yourself in the mood for a decently-made, fairly enjoyable, well-acted romantic drama, then I could in good conscience recommend this movie. Have at. It’s pretty good. I’m not sure I can say anything more than that, though.