Carol ★★½

I’m surprised as to how much acclaim Carol has gotten. In a world of a dime a dozen LGBT-themed Oscar fare, Carol has a tough job in trying to stand out among the crowd. The way it seemed to have done this was to set itself against the backdrop of the conservative 1950s and… not much else. And therein lies the problem with Carol for me as an audience member.

Now, Carol certainly has some good elements to it. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara turn in fine performances with what they are given. The production design is very high quality and the choice of 16mm film is a very nice touch that makes the entire movie feel old-fashioned. The costuming is very pristine and everything about the style of the film feels to have been developed with great care.

However, I wish this attention to detail had extended to the substance of the film. The characters in Carol feel very one-dimensional and I found myself unable to care about almost any relationship in the film. The most noticeable lack of depth is found in the male characters. Kyle Chandler’s character seems to enter each scene for the sole purpose of getting angry at Carol and leaving. In a film trying to sell you on subtlety and nuance, there is nothing subtle or nuanced about his overblown reactions. It sticks out like a sore thumb and makes his character seem cartoonishly unsympathetic. The rest of the male characters also serve as nothing more than roadblocks to lesbian romance: Therese’s boyfriend is a oft-argumentative character that doesn’t understand the concept of homosexuality and the only male character that is sweet to Carol and Therese has only been doing so because of an ulterior motive. It feels like there are sexist undertones with all the male characters being portrayed in such a reductive and unsympathetic way.

Furthermore, Carol and Therese’s relationship, while spanning the entire film and carrying the bulk of the narrative, feels largely unexplored. There isn’t any reason given to the audience as to why these completely different people from completely different social classes with completely different interests would even like to spend so much time together, much less as secret lovers. There aren’t any moral qualms that Therese has with dating a married woman who’s nearly twice her age. Carol seems to have no problem hitting on a younger stranger with the knowledge that an affair could destroy her family (which it does). And despite hardly knowing anything about each other, they engage in this affair just because. It gives me the impression that their relationship is based much less on love than it is on primal sexual fulfillment. Now, if Carol was a film about two sexually frustrated women having a sneaky affair to satisfy primal urges, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Yet Carol desperately tries to get me to buy that these two have a deeper emotional connection with each other in spite of not setting any of the groundwork to let me buy into it.

Ultimately, for me, Carol is a bland love story dressed up in 16mm and pristine 1950’s décor. I feel as though Carol relies too heavily on Blanchett and Mara to carry paper-thin characters, while also relying on a social topic that seems to have been brought to a simmer over the last few years. In all honesty, I am not surprised that Carol is not nominated for this year’s Best Picture. It’s not that Carol was snubbed because of sexism, homophobia, etc.; it’s that Carol is not that special of a film.