Carol ★★★½

Without the weight of first-viewing expectations, certain scenes—the rapturous ending, especially—made much more of an impression. (Though the letter and voiceover is still exhibit A for why trailers suck; I'd only seen it about thrice, all during multiplex previews, and yet I practically had the "incorrect" order of the phrases committed to memory, which made the actual letter feel a tad strange.) At the same time, the scenes that didn't quite work the first time—the ones with Richard; Carol's first discussion with the lawyer; Harge confronting Abby—came across as far more leaden. The issue, it seems, is that the film is almost too direct at times. (None of the archness of Far From Heaven is present.) Like Haynes (who excels when not telling a story straight—pun kind of intended), the film is at its best when balancing multiple layers: e.g. the stark differences in Mara's and Blanchett's acting styles; the tension between Nagy's/Highsmith's terse, pared down dialogue ("flung out of space"), Lachman's cinematography, and Burwell's expressive score; the space between truncated gestures and the underlying passion. When the directness takes over though, as it frequently does, the film stops cold in its tracks. It's not that the directness doesn't work per se (Blanchett's "We're not ugly people" speech is extremely straightforward but still fantastic), it's that it throws off the very specific, practically dreamlike rhythms of the film. Consequently, rapture is more intermittent than sustained. Still, the totality is such a wondrously textured haze, that even if it didn't grab me so much as just wash over me, the experience was certainly something. It says a lot that I wouldn't at all mind seeing it again.

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