one of the most literarily significant lesbian novels of the pre-Stonewall era
was written (pseudonymously) by a notorious anti-Semitic mystery and suspense
novelist. Yes, the same difficult mind that created the talented Tom Ripley
also gave birth to Carol Aird. Journey back to Manhattan in the early 1950s,
when Madison Avenue wasn’t so mad yet. Lesbianism might have been a love that
dared not say its name, but the sophisticated Aird is still not one to mince
words in Carol (trailer here), Todd Haynes’
adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The
Price of Salt, which screens as a Main Slate selection of the 53rd New York Film Festival.
Belivet is a mousy but proper young woman working in a Manhattan department
store, while secretly harboring ambitions of a photography career. When
assisting Carol Aird schedule a delivery, she is quite taken by the older
woman, in an uncertain kind of way. After she haltingly reaches out to Aird,
she is surprised and pleased when Aird reaches back. Soon, they are spending
more and more ambiguous time together. However, the development of their
relationship is complicated by Aird’s messy divorce proceedings with her future
ex, Harge, who still refuses to let go. (With a name like Harge Aird, he must
be Ivy League, possibly even a future CIA director.)
order to win her back, Harge is willing to play dirty. That includes calling
out Aird’s past fling with Abby Gerhard, her childhood friend and now platonic
confidant. Feeling overwhelmed by the tawdriness of it all, Aird packs up
Belivet for an impulsive road trip. Naturally, further complications will
generally get Haynes’ affinity for the era and its attendant angsts, but the quality
of Carol’s period details are still impressive
in their seamless accuracy. As we see, this is a time that predates the LP,
when music stores stocked ten inch records in brown paper sleeves. The film
also has the good taste to prominently feature Billie Holiday’s rendition of “Easy
Living,” recorded with the great Teddy Wilson. In fact, Holiday is a rather
fitting choice, given the film’s themes. However, it should also be noted the
uncharacteristically lush orchestral score is one of Carter Burwell’s best.
Carol looks great and
sounds great it is not quite the instant classic some represent it to be.
Despite the breathless plaudits it has generated, there is something rather affected
about Cate Blanchett’s performance as Aird. Instead of truly submerging herself
into the character, she looks and sounds like she is doing Aird as if played by
Joan Crawford or Rosalind Russell. Still, who wouldn’t like to see either of
them dig into such a juicy role?
contrast, Rooney Mara delves inward for an unusually brittle and disciplined
turn. You would half expect her to shatter if she tipped over. However, Sarah
Paulson steals scene after scene as the earthy, no-nonsense Gerhard, while Kyle
Chandler manages to humanize square old Harge remarkably well.
As a recreation of the 1950s, Carol is richly realized, but it is less
convincing as a relationship drama. Nevertheless, it takes viewers to a
specific time and place, where it duly scores it points. Earning a moderate
recommendation for its technical merits, Carol
screens tomorrow (10/9) and Saturday (10/10) at Alice Tully Hall, as part
of this year’s NYFF.
Labels: Cate Blanchett, NYFF '15, Patricia Highsmith, Todd Haynes