Good news: “Carol” is as wonderful as the reviews said. What’s more, after seeing it last night at a screening, I understand why it received such a rapturous reception at the Cannes Film Festival last May. I loved it. The acting. The story. The subtlety of the direction. And oh those luscious costumes that not only got the look of the 1950s exactly right but should earn a special Oscar just for Cate Blanchett’s mink coat.
Based faithfully on Patricia Highsmith’s cult novel, The Price of Salt, which she had to publish under a pseudonym back in the day because of the lesbian theme, “Carol” introduces us to Therese (Rooney Mara), a department store clerk and aspiring photographer, who sells a train set to older, married socialite, Carol (Cate Blanchett) for Carol’s daughter’s Christmas present. There’s an immediate connection between them, and when Carol leaves her leather gloves on the counter, Therese returns them and finds herself embarking on a romantic journey she never expected. She’s a wide-eyed innocent, dating men but not ready to commit to any, and Carol is her opposite: worldly, cultured, involved in a bitter divorce from her husband (Kyle Chandler) after her affair with an old friend (Sarah Paulson), trying to hold on to custody of her daughter. Theirs is an unlikely love affair, but that’s exactly what it is.
Among the things that are astonishing about this movie is that both characters grow as a result of their relationship. Also, the cinematography is so gorgeous – Todd Haynes was working again with “Far from Heaven” and “Mildred Pierce” cinematographer Edward Lachman and shooting on Super 16mm film – that it has to be the most beautiful film of the year in terms of production design, which is all the more remarkable since “Carol” was an indie movie on a limited shooting schedule and budget.
Following the movie, Janet Maslin, former film critic of The New York Times, now a book critic there, moderated a Q&A with “Carol”‘s three producers and Phyllis Nagy, its screenwriter, who had been trying to get her script made for over a decade and told the audience about meeting Patricia Highsmith and sharing her impressions. The only negative in the otherwise terrific evening was the rudeness of some in the audience, who felt the need to get up and leave during the Q&A so they could go to bed. Yes, the hour was late, but come on. Being able to attract the “talent” so they’re willing to shlep up to Westchester on a rainy night and answer questions depends on the audience showing they care, and last night I was embarrassed by them. Someone at the Jacob Burns Film Center needs to politely ask them to either leave after the credits, before the Q&A, or wait until the end.
In any case, let the Oscar nominations roll in for Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Phyllis Nagy, Todd Haynes and “Carol.”