Sally Jane Black’s review published on Letterboxd:
They say Sean Payton was three theatres over. I didn't see him, so I can't say for sure. It would have made an irritating night much better, though, especially if I got to make out with his gross football coaching self. I, uh, have weird ideas about how to approach celebrities. Anyway, let me just say that assigned seating at theatres is bunk, squeaky leather chairs are gross, and waiters walking in front of the screen to bring flat bread pizzas to assholes in the front row can bite me. And the fuckers in the back row who talked through the whole thing can die in a particularly painful fire. Those of you who love to watch movies at the theatre are just fucking weird. I'll buy a projector and a mansion to watch it in, alone, when I win that big fucking lottery this weekend (note to self: maybe I should buy a ticket?).
At least the sound was mostly all right.
Oh, the movie. Smoky windows, shots framed to remove extraneous speakers (mostly--only?--men), rich melodrama, green mantle on blue dress (I'm in love), a beautiful kiss, all well and good, but what struck me is the contrast between Therese and Carol in terms of power. Carol obviously has money, experience, and upper class poise (which will ultimately translate into a sort of dignity) that can carry her through, but Therese is repeatedly shown to be juvenile. The mother/daughter parallel is enticingly taboo (what is wrong with me), and the tension between the two is as much along the unspoken question of Carol's emotional associations as it is lust/romance.
But. But the important thing is that, after the Bad Thing happens, Carol says to Therese, "It's not your fault." This has several meanings that elevate the film, the first of which is an acknowledgement that the manipulations of patriarchal laws and husbands and homophobia and sexism, all of which combine so insidiously, are not to be blamed on LGBTQI folks. Unlike certain other films I won't name, the conflict is explicitly shown here to be created entirely* by a cishet man trying to keep what he wants. It's not Therese's fault that the world is ugly.
The second (and third) meaning goes back to the contrasting power of the two. Carol is, more or less, Out. Therese is just finding her way. Carol is therefore able to see clearly, or at least better than Therese, where the fault lies. She is more free, and thus more powerful. She is more attuned to herself, and thus more powerful. The film equates--like many do, to be fair--the characteristic of being able to be open with being able to act, to see, to think. Therese is lost even to herself (and she admits it, in some, well, bad dialogue). (The difference in power is also why we have to see Therese say no before she says yes. It goes back to her always saying yes, of course, it's all neatly planned. But hey, fine, she gets to know what she wants, and it's a happy-ish ending in that regard.) Regardless, Carol is still shown to have less power in some ways than she seems to (or should). Her gun, metaphorically speaking, is empty. She admits to Abby she doesn't know what she's doing. She shares that much with Therese, in that moment.
* Yes, I am saying entirely. Carol may have had an affair and turned out to be interested in women, but it's still Harge's fault that there's conflict here--he's the one who instigates using their child as a tool to control her. Nothing she had done excuses that sort of behavior, especially since it's predicated on the leverage he has as a cishet man. Also, while I've said his name, can someone explain to me what the fuck kind of name "Harge" is? I like it, but I don't get where it could possibly come from. Also also, Coach Taylor in this role is a pretty great piece of casting against type and within type at the same time.
Setting the film over the holidays (mostly) felt like a ploy to ramp up the melodrama (it worked, very well), but it also gave us those snowy streets and "Silver Bells" and that Santa hat and toy trains. Haynes' style is full of details, all of them painted with thick coats of sentiment and a sort of oppressive atmosphere. It's all in service to not just shaping a world that we're all familiar with, but also to subtly showing in the background secrets out in the open and tiny connections that have whole other meanings. The song Therese chooses to play is Billie Holiday for a reason.