Film Review by Kam Williams
Divorcee’ Finds Refuge in Arms of Shy Shopgirl in Tawdry Tale of Forbidden Love
Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is a socialite in the midst of a bitter divorce. Her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), is making it difficult, since he still loves her and can’t quite understand why she wants out of the marriage. After all, she’s been living in
the lap of luxury in a mansion in suburban New Jersey, where the couple has been raising their young daughter, Rindy (Kk Heim).
But having a devoted spouse who’s a good provider and a doting dad just isn’t enough, given how Carol has been hiding a dark secret for decades. That’s because it’s the early Fifties, and she’s deep in the closet due to homosexuality’s generally being considered scandalous, if not perverted behavior.
Consequently, the only hint Harge has that his wife might be a lesbian was the brief fling she admits to having had with her BFF, Abby (Sarah Paulson). So, he’s remained optimistic about changing her mind, and has even suggested that they vacation together over the upcoming holidays.
However, the plot thickens when Carol ventures into Manhattan to do a little Christmas shopping. For, while buying presents for little Rindy in a department store, she makes the acquaintance of a pretty and polite, young clerk name Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara).
The two proceed to flirt with each other ever so subtly, so as to not arouse any suspicion among customers and employees. After purchasing an electric train set for her daughter, Carol accidentally leaves her gloves on the counter, which affords Therese an excuse to contact her again.
Despite the sizable age and class differences, the two strike up a platonic friendship with tremendous sexual tension simmering just below the surface. Their thinly-veiled desires are not lost on Therese’s boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who accuses her of having a crush on the well-preserved cougar. Meanwhile, Harge develops his own suspicions when he drops in on Carol unexpectedly and she can’t explain why she’s entertaining a woman half her age.
Fed up, he soon decides to seek sole custody of Rindy. However, his only hope of having Carol deemed an unfit mother rests on catching her and Therese in flagrante delicto, that is, in the act. To that end, he hires a private detective (Cory Michael Smith) to shadow the canoodling couple on a cross-country jaunt until he comes up with concrete proof of an affair.
Thus unfolds Carol, a bittersweet tale of forbidden love directed by Oscar-nominee Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven). The piercingly-evocative, character-driven drama is based on “The Price of Salt,” a groundbreaking romance novel published by Patricia Highsmith back in 1952. Well ahead of its time for lesbian literature, that seminal opus eschewed stale stereotypes in favor of a realistic portrayal of its gay protagonists.
Here, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara more than do justice to the source material, effectively capturing the sensibilities of star-crossed lovers daring to defy a culture marked by intolerance. Shot against an array of exquisite, painstakingly-recreated backdrops, this poignant period piece serves as a telling reminder of how far we’ve come from the days when homosexuality was still considered a crime of moral turpitude.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R sexuality, nudity and brief profanity
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company