Monday, May 2, 2016

Short Take: Carol

The defining feature of Carol, Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt, is its surface elegance. The cinematography, the clothes, the sets, even the pacing and the tone--they're undeniably immaculate. But for all the pains taken, Haynes doesn't capture much in the way of drama. Highsmith's novel was a bildungsroman told entirely from the point of view of its 19-year-old protagonist. The young woman, raised in an institutional setting and estranged from her parents, gradually gets in touch with her feelings, ambitions, and identity. The transformative element in her life is her relationship with an upper-class suburban homemaker who's in the midst of a divorce. As the novel develops, the two go from being friends to lovers. The plot is fairly thin; it mainly serves as a scaffolding for the young woman's emotional epiphanies. The film, though, doesn't show much interest in Highsmith's approach. Haynes and Phyllis Nagy, the credited screenwriter, apparently decided the homemaker was the more compelling of the two characters. (The title change to the older woman's name isn't out of place.) The divorce subplot, which involves a custody battle, takes up far more space in the film than it does in the book. It also pushes the coming-of-age aspects of the younger woman's story off center stage. Highsmith's deeply felt bildungsroman is turned into a melodrama about a well-to-do suburbanite who embraces her lesbianism at the cost of her family. The story's setting in the 1950s is kept, so it also serves as an indictment of the priggish, conformist mores of the time. Unfortunately, the melodrama lacks urgency; a good deal of the book's relaxed, peripatetic plotting remains, and it undercuts the efforts at suspense. As social criticism, the film does nothing but confirm commonplace views of the era. It is great to look at, though, even if all one can do is admire the craftsmanship of the various artisans. Especially notable are Cate Blanchett in the title role, Rooney Mara, who plays the younger woman, cinematographer Ed Lachman, production designer Judy Decker, editor Affonso Gonçalves, and composer Carter Burwell.

No comments:

Post a Comment