Synopsis: May – December romance between two women in the 1950’s.
Stories of forbidden love have captured our attention for centuries, from Romeo and Juliet to Anna Karenina. But writers today don’t have it so easy. What contemporary taboos remain for consenting adults in America? Filmmaker Todd Haynes reaches back to our most recent Great Repression: the 1950’s.
Carol is the tale of forbidden love between classy New York City fashion maven Carol (Cate Blanchett) and the inexperienced young Therese (Rooney Mara). I thought it would be the revelation of Therese’s sexual awakening, but the real story is an even more exciting awakening. But first…
We meet Carol, wife of successful businessman Harge (yes, Harge) as she swans around New York City in her stylish couture, wearing the latest women’s suits, adorned with tasteful jeweled brooches, her hair and makeup immaculate. One day Carol the sophisticate glides into a department store, looking for a doll for her little girl. The clerk assisting her is Therese (Rooney Mara), a prim and dowdy young woman. Carol slyly flirts with clueless Therese who finds herself intrigued. The two meet up for lunch; Carol looks fabulous but Therese wears her uniform of hideous jumper with a mock turtleneck, her hair in a school girlish pageboy. In short, she looks like she has stepped off of the cover of a Nancy Drew book.
Complications ensue as 50’s society and their respective beaux pick up on their gay vibe. But rest assured, no matter how bad things get, Carol is still beautifully turned out. Sadly, Therese stays stuck in her drab duds, while she ponders a photography career and her confusing attraction to Carol. She tromps around Manhattan in a shapeless nun-taking-a-vow-of-poverty coat and a confusing hat that is not quite plaid and not quite beret.
Things get very dramatic: Will Carol free herself from her jealous husband and be allowed to keep her daughter? Will Therese get a clue? You are gay. And your wardrobe is the worst!
And all the while, Carol’s artfully draped scarves and sumptuous coral lipstick will dazzle you. Without revealing too much about the lovers’ fates, I will say that there is a striking, soaring moment in the film when Therese walks across the room (in slo-mo!), flawlessly dressed and with fantabulous Audrey Hepburn eyebrows. Oh, how she has flowered. Swoon away, my dears, because fashion awakenings and sexual awakenings are both quite exciting.
Cut to the Chase: Thoughtful exploration of sexuality (and fashion) in 1950’s America.
Comedy Highlight: Rooney Mara’s Nancy Drew outfits.