(Video) 'Carol' Movie Trailer: Set in 1950s New York, a department store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Kyle Chandler, Rooney Mara
Director: Todd Haynes
It's mid-century Manhattan, and a sweet young woman named Therese (bright-eyed Rooney Mara) has her life in a holding pattern, working the toy department at a Macy's-like store and halfheartedly hanging on with a boyfriend.
Then one day 40-something Carol walks into the store, oozing affluence and undefined melancholy. She's shopping for her daughter, but as her encounter with Therese lingers, it's clear there is some stronger attraction between the two. They become friends at first, but as we could tell from the moments their eyes met over a dollhouse, they are destined for something deeper.
Of course, in the movies — much less 1950s America — the road of love is never smooth. Carol has a husband (Kyle Chandler) who has finally had it up to here with his wife's indiscretions, and he's declared either she settles down with him for good or the marriage is kaput. The stakes are raised, of course, because under the circumstances he would gain custody of their daughter.
With her Katharine Hepburn face and Lauren Bacall voice, Blanchett commands every frame of Carol, even the few moments when she's not on-screen. Her pain is evident from the first glimpse; her passion glows like an ember just beneath her translucent skin. In a career of superb performances (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator), this is her finest hour.
As her young lover, Mara is just about perfect as well. While Therese at first casts the image of an utter innocent, slowly and masterfully, Mara allows us to see behind that exterior to reveal a young woman who, although she may not quite know what she wants in life, will do whatever it takes to root it out.
Carol's husband could easily have been made the villain of the piece, but in Chandler's hands he is a tragic character, confused by his wife's inattention and endlessly devoted to his daughter. He wants this marriage to work so badly that we can feel his heartache as every last hope drops away.
As he did with his gloriously realized 2002 domestic drama Far From Heaven, director Todd Haynes once more brings a story of how, in the pursuit of dreams, even happy endings can come with collateral damage.
Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.