cubapuddingjr’s review published on Letterboxd:
Although I rarely acknowledge it, how I watch a movie is absolutely integral to my overall experience of it and a huge influence on whatever critical thinking I do on it. So I'll note that I watched this at the Paris Theater in New York on December 3rd with my Mom and my girlfriend and had an amazing time. The old, uncomfortable seats and cold drafts in the theater barely registered with me, as I was absolutely glued to the screen throughout and walked out on a total high.
A lot of elements played into that - this movie ends on a high in and of itself, Burwell's score is simple, hypnotic and beautiful and the cinematography (in particular the way this movie uses reflective surfaces and windows) is just heart-stopping. And it is refreshing and wonderful that this movie ends in a way that celebrates the attraction, desire and love Therese and Carol have for each other and their sexuality along with them. So all of that put together + holiday setting = new Christmas classic (as if the title wasn't obvious enough)
So why the relatively low rating? Well, for one thing, I'm a bit surprised with the acting accolades this film has received. To me, the best performance (and simultaneously the best character) of the movie is Sarah Paulson as Abby, Carol's best friend and sometime lover. Her scene with Kyle Chandler was the acting highlight of the whole movie, and one of the few genuinely political moments in it too. Was wondering if Haynes would pull from Written On The Wind and make Chandler/Paulson the more damaged and human counterpart to the main couple, but the movie is ultimately not too interested in them. Blanchett/Mara are just fine, even good I suppose, but this movie relies on them so much that some major moments (the first meeting, the date at the restaurant) didn't really work for me.
Primarily that's due to Blanchett, who has probably never been better, but still plays Carol with a distracting self-consciousness, making her lines of dialogue sound like she's at an Old Hollywood costume party. Mara spends much of the movie with a deer-in-headlights look on her face which was equally distracting, but overall more befitting of her character.
Then there's the matter of Carol and Therese as a couple. I've read a lot of praise abot how the relationship is handled in this movie. The word "tasteful" comes up a lot (instant red flag). Carol meets Therese at the kids section of a department store while shopping for a present for her daughter, with the slightly doltish name Rindy. When we are later introduced to Rindy, her hair even looks like Therese's. So I do think the movie's aware that Carol is being a creep, but, much like Therese, seems way too smitten with her to ever want to call too much attention to it. The age-difference is never made precise and is glossed over by the other, "more forbidden" aspect of lesbian love and overcoming society's bullshit.
Am looking forward to whatever Haynes does next, just hoping it'll be something a little less classically restrained.