January 19, 2016

There won’t be a wide eye in the house at the end of Carol, Todd Hayne’s pretty, vacant, trudge through the 1950s tropes that tart up this tale of a love that dare not speak its name. 

Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt, the cost of anything that occurs to the characters is difficult to assess in this boring romantic drama that looks at the past through the prism of the present, removing the danger of desire awakening during that tumultuous time. 

A furtive glance between a shop girl and a housewife kicks off a moon-eyed fling, as Cate Blanchett’s desperately sad Carol accidentally, but perhaps on purpose, forgets her gloves at a toy counter manned by the much younger Therese (Rooney Mara). 

In the early throws of divorce, Carol is struck by the waifish Therese, her rough social edges flinting against Carol’s deadened sense of self, and the women, we’re told -and sometimes pointedly shown, become consumed with the thought of one another.

The slowest of seductions ensues over dry Martini’s, quite weekends and loaded silences, as small acts of kindness breath deeply, and minute physical gestures thump like the tell-take heart, as they saddle up their stirrings and ride them cross country in an attempt to escape the reality of their circumstance.

No one was expecting Blue is the Warmest Colour. Indeed the passion needed to be pent up, prim almost, to reflect the pull of their desire chaffing against the morality of the time.

But Carol wallows in sadness when it should strain with physical longing. Where it should fire with mystery, it mopes with pity. Not for one moment will you believe these women are interested in, falling for or are sexually charged by the other. Beyond a car journey in the preface, there’s no time that you get a real sense of that emptiness echoing loneliness that dominates the thoughts of a person in love with someone they supposedly shouldn’t be.

Instead Haynes cartoons the social standards of the day, as screenwriter Phyllis Nagy puts lines in supporting player’s mouths that are intent on making us gasp at the cluelessness of the time.

From Kyle Chandler’s strained outbursts as Carol’s husband, to Jake Lacy’s rethreading of the same nice but slim charecterisation he sported in Obvious Child and Girls (here he’s Therese’s blue-balled fiancé, Richard), it’s a choice that makes light the trauma of being gay. The self-doubt and shame, the caution and fear, they’re frigid, with lots of empty eyeballing that relies on the bias of its most likely audience to colour the gaze. 

And the way it fetishises the fashions of the day! The furs, motors and melodies of post-war New York swirl sweetly, as director Todd Hayne’s cuts between the back of characters heads and obscured shots of their faces- and other assorted body parts, a metaphor for their inability to be seen or to show who they really are, but which results in a hollow core where the heart of the movie should beat.

Arty pretension trumps the artlessness of these women’s wooing of one another in a movie that is perpetually buttoned up in its period setting. It’s a snow globe-sweet look at lesbian love in a supposedly cold climate, where the sympathies of today trump the truth of the time, a meeting of Mills & Boom and Merchant & Ivory, with all the danger of a running pair of panty hose.


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