[Screen It]


(2015) (Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara) (R)

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Drama: Two 1950s era women must contend with the ramifications of them falling in love with each other.
It's the 1950s and Therese Belivet (ROONEY MARA) is a young woman who works in the toy section of a department store, but would like to be a photographer. She has no shortage of male suitors, be that her current boyfriend, Danny McElroy (JOHN MAGARO), who's frustrated that their relationship isn't progressing more quickly, or Richard Semco (JACK LACY), a young man who works for the New York Times but wants to be a writer. Despite their attention, Therese has found herself instantly smitten with Carol Aird (CATE BLANCHETT), a fashionable woman who's arrived at her counter in need of gifts. When Carol leaves her gloves on Therese's counter, and the clerk then returns them to her, the two strike up a friendship that teeters on something more.

That doesn't sit well with Carol's husband, Harge (KYLE CHANDLER), who's seen this before, namely in a lesbian fling his wife had with Abby Gerhard (SARAH PAULSON), their young daughter's godmother. Despite them planning to divorce, he's still fixated on winning Carol back, but she clearly has her sights set firmly on Therese and vice-versa. As the women's friendship turns into romance and sex, they must contend with the ramifications of that, including Harge using that against Carol in attempts to win sole custody of their young daughter.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
I have friends of various ages who are gay and it's disheartening, even in today's ever more enlightened and accepting age, that they still can't publicly reveal their sexual orientation. I'm not talking about any sort of overt sexual activity, just small things like holding hands, a hug or even a simple peck of a kiss to say hello or goodbye. Granted, there's no law against that (as there still is in some prehistoric countries), but they realize it's better to be safe than sorry, and that's just a sad state of affairs.

Of course, they have it easy compared to those who preceded them decades ago and couldn't even let on to straight friends, blood relatives or even - in some cases -- their heterosexual spouses about their orientation and lifestyle. Director Todd Haynes covered that latter aspect in his 2002 period drama "Far From Heaven."

In that film (that earned four Oscar nominations), Julianne Moore's 1950s era housewife, who seemingly has it all, discovers that her husband (played by Dennis Quaid) is secretly gay and her life unravels after that, especially when she seeks consolation with their African-American gardener (Dennis Haysbert).

Haynes now returns to that era and the fallout of "forbidden love" in "Carol," another period drama that's likely to score lots of award nominations both for those in front of the camera and others behind it. Working from Phyllis Nagy's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 romance novel "The Price of Salt" (which itself must have been controversial back in that time), the director introduces us to the title character (played to perfection by Cate Blanchett) having drinks with Therese Belivet (a superb Rooney Mara).

A male friend of the latter's shows up and invites her to come along to a party, and Carol says she should go. Therese is reluctant, and you can sense there's something between these women, but Carol excuses herself and the film then rewinds to the moment when the two women meet.

Their budding friendship quickly blossoms into something more, a development that doesn't sit well with Carol's husband (Kyle Chandler) who's seen this happen before, and despite their agreement that they're going to divorce, he still wants to win her back. When it doesn't look like that will occur, he punishes her by using her sexuality as a reason he should win sole custody of their young child.

Meanwhile, Therese's boyfriend (John Magaro), who's slept over but hasn't gone all of the way with her, isn't happy with that or when she heads off on vacation with this new woman when she's opted not to do the same with him.

And that's really all there is story-wise for this offering, but it's enough for Blanchett and Mara to make the characters and their changing relationship work. Their performances are impeccable, the writing terrific, the direction solid, and the film looks lush and absolutely gorgeous thanks to the work of cinematographer Edward Lachman and all of the folks who worked on the art, set, production and costume designs.

While the film obviously won't be anywhere as "shocking" as the source novel was more than half a century ago, and seems light years away from the director's last foray into this subject matter in that long-ago time period, perhaps it will further help create a world where people who happen to be gay don't have to hide that. Pretty terrific all around, "Carol" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 24, 2015 / Posted December 25, 2015

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