Saturday, 5 December 2015

CAROL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Cucumber-cold adaptation of Highsmith sapphic romance

"Oh Harge, my quim belongs to another."

Carol (2015)
Dir. Todd Haynes
Scr. Phyllis Nagy
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Carol and its title star Cate Blanchett have one thing in common - they're both cool as cucumbers. Alas, this doesn't mean we're going to see any cucumber-action in this turgidly hollow, grossly disappointing and wildly overrated Todd Haynes misfire. Given the Cantonese Groin qualities of a waxy cuke straight from the Frigidaire crisper and the sapphic pedigree of the underlying romance which drives the picture, we're served up a thin gruel of pudendal interruptus. In other words, no dipping Johnson Bar cukes in hot, steamy luke, just the inner temperature of a new Frigidaire, filling every nook and cranny of this wonky adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's autobiographical novel "The Price of Salt".

In an oyster shell, we follow the predilections of the well-dressed Carol Aird (Blanchett, the coldest actress of her generation). Having married the filthy-rich Harge (Kyle Chandler), their union baked a glorious bun to pop from Carol's oven, a sweet daughter whom both love dearly. Alas, Harge (was there ever a better name for any character?) has caught wind of his wifey's preference for beef curtains after a long, torrid affair she's had with childhood chum Abby (Sarah Paulson). Though the ladies' rug munching days are long behind them, they still have a mutually dependent friendship. Harge keeps a close eye on Carol's rug doctoring tendencies since they'll soon be divorced and he's sure Carol's greedily insatiable taste for quim will make her an unfit mother.

Enter cutie-pie department store clerk and aspiring photographer Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). When her elfin eyes lock with Carol's in the toy section, it's obvious we're in store for some lusciously lappin' luvvin' with, perhaps, a satisfying queef or two and a bevy of sex toys (perhaps even a Hitachi Magic Wand).

But no, before we get to the shenanigans de la pudenda, we're forced to sit through plenty of dour moping about, looks of lust, quiet moments of inner passion and a decided lack of anything resembling fun, sexiness and/or excitement. Even a nicely smarmy Kyle Chandler performance is undone by the attempts at humanizing him and in spite of a lush Carter Burwell score and (as always) gorgeous Ed Lachman cinematography, you'd think the entire movie was set in a leaky, old mausoleum. The picture is that cold. Much of its chilliness is due to Blanchett, of course, who becomes more unwatchable with every picture (save for her campy turn in Hanna and Woody Allen's perfect use of her tense frigidity in Blue Jasmine).

Not that I'd wish for Haynes to keep repeating himself, but he's already been in similar territory with the harrowingly magnificent Douglas Sirk-inspired Far From Heaven (an unofficial remake of All That Heaven Allows) and his approach there might have been as well served here. He's one of the few contemporary directors who understands melodrama as a legitimate genre and form of storytelling and he's certainly made it work before, but other than some proficient blocking here and there, a number of original camera moves and setups, plus an almost obsessive attention to period detail, Carol is still bereft of any real passion. Yes, we see the work of a genuine film artist here, but all of it is sadly misplaced.

"Well, at least I have something resembling a personality."

Haynes is one of the best of the best! Even when he occasionally missteps into some oddball Cloud Cuckoo Land like I'm Not There, he's nothing short of brilliant and, of course, his greatest work in Safe, Velvet Goldmine and the aforementioned Far From Heaven (not to mention his cutting edge early work with Poison and Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story) makes him a filmmaker whose work will resonate for decades, if not longer.

Carol feels closest to his TV adaptation of Mildred Pierce - cold, but bereft of passion. There he had James M. Cain's novel as source material, but the series lacked any of the genuine snap, crackle and pop of Cain's prose style (not a difficult thing for someone like Haynes to have achieved cinematically, if, however, his head had been screwed on properly). Here he has Highsmith's novel as the source, but in spite of the challenges it might have posed in terms of its stunningly original and thrilling POV, Haynes appears to have gobbled up screenwriter Phyllis Nagy's proficiently middle of the road and rather dull re-working of the novel. Given that co-star Rooney Mara has screen presence to burn, the far more obsessive and mysterious qualities of Highsmith's approach could have, especially in Haynes's hands, been a movie for the ages.

Instead, we get a picture that feels to many (and wrongly so) as a picture for the ages. Alas, it's strictly ephemeral and will, no doubt, be reassessed in later years as a flawed, misstep in the Haynes canon.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One and a half Stars

Carol is in platform release, then wide release via The Weinstein Company