Wednesday, December 30, 2015

OVP: Carol (2015)

Film: Carol (2015)
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy
Director: Todd Haynes
Oscar History: 6 nominations (Best Actress-Cate Blanchett, Supporting Actress-Rooney Mara, Score, Cinematography, Costume, Adapted Screenplay)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 5/5 stars

Trying to live up to hype is a difficult task, to be sure, but no film has had the staggering task that Carol has had in the past few weeks as I waited impatiently for it to finally arrive in my local community.  The Oscar Twitter community (particularly the gay Oscar Twitter community) has been raving perpetually about the film, and I couldn't help but wonder if it could possibly be as good as everyone said it was, or if I was going to be left in the dust on this film.  After all, I have never loved a film of Todd Haynes before.  Far From Heaven and I'm Not There were both fine films, bordering on the great, but aside from clearly good performances from principle cast members I couldn't get behind the movies themselves and part of me wondered if Carol, this elusive movie that felt more cerebral in a year where I've oddly embraced warmer films, could find a way into my heart in such a mood.  However, only an hour home from my family Christmas I couldn't wait any longer and finally arrived at the movie, which, to me, was the event of the winter season.

(Spoilers Ahead) To try and sum up all of the feelings I had while watching Carol may be a hard thing to do, so I'll focus first on the look of the movie, which is divine.  Edward Lachman, who won his only Oscar nomination to date for Far From Heaven, spends much of this film trying to recreate scenes in the way Edward Hopper painted.  We see less of the 1950's melodramas that populated the previous Julianne Moore film and instead see an homage to the American realist period of art.  As a result, we get one of the most beautiful films of the year, a real treat to state considering Mad Max, The Revenant, and Creed are keeping that bar pretty damn high.  There are actual scenes you can picture yourself hanging on the wall, such as the now famous shot of Rooney Mara against an indigo evening backdrop or Cate Blanchett being clutched by Kyle Chandler.  It's a wonderfully-felt and gorgeous movie, and the aesthetics of the Art Direction, Costume, and scoring all add to that as well.

The acting is something to behold.  It seems like with Cate Blanchett right now we're in a period similar to Meryl Streep in the 1980's, where every single performance seems to come with a sense of wonder and "how did she do that?"  It says something that Blanchett's penchant for playing insanely privileged, oftentimes oblivious white women (Elizabeth, The Aviator, Blue Jasmine, Cinderella, Truth) can result in such diverse shades.  Her Carol is a complicated creation, someone that clearly understands the danger of acting on her romantic impulses with Abby (Paulson) and Therese (Mara), but she can't help herself and is willing to risk a whole lot of her life to live because she's aware of the ramifications of not acting on her own impulses.  Mara is giving a completely different, albeit equally complicated performance as a woman who is for the first time in her life understanding love and passion in a way that she never felt would be opened for her in the past.  There's a scene where she asks, somewhat comically to some in my uncomfortable audience (older audiences are a godsend in terms of not talking during movies but their politics sometimes show when they automatically assume an uncomfortable scene about sexuality should be met with laughter), her boyfriend Richard (Lacy) if he's ever been in love with a man.  It takes a mountain of will for Mara to not make this seem just about her but actually like genuine curiosity if what she's feeling is unusual or something everyone has encountered, but she does it.  Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, and Sarah Paulson are all good in supporting roles, but none of them are given anything particularly fascinating to say or do, even Paulson who clearly is playing her character with a lot more planning than you'd expect from such a passing part.

So the question here is whether or not I loved Carol, and I genuinely can't decide, and perhaps that's for the best.  I think it's a wonderful piece of film, probably the best I've ever seen from Todd Haynes and surely would be a worthy Best Picture nominee, but Carol isn't exactly meant to be loved, is it?  It's not Boyhood or Gravity with a lot of moments for uplift, but that doesn't mean it's not superb and I won't grow to love it over time.  I adore the ways that everything in the decision-making patterns of Carol and Therese are so deliberate and have so much weight.  They understand that, given the era and the time, they may not find a situation quite like theirs (particularly Carol, weighed down by middle age in the back of her mind) with ease and they also realize that if they truly love each other (which they clearly do) that there will be significant, incredible sacrifices that will come along with that.  Carol is giving up her family, Therese is giving up her ability to have one, and those are big decisions, especially in 1952.  Haynes understands this as he has an honest-to-god debate over whether they will end up together, a question that you genuinely cannot feel the answer to until the very last scene.  That's a testament to the fine writing, and to the deeply introverted performances of the two leading women, especially in the second half of the film where the movie is at its best.  Carol is a movie that lives up to the hype, and thankfully adds a truly intriguing voice to this year's cinematic discussions.

Those are my thoughts on Carol, the Oscar film of the moment.  What are yours?  Did you love the movie, or was the hype too much for you to bare?  Are you rooting harder for Mara or Blanchett, or are you hoping for a tie in Best Actress?  And in a world where warmer cinema, especially in awards-friendly fare, is celebrated, can something as chilly as Carol find a way into the conversation?

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