Carol – LFF Review

Carol

Whilst working in the toy floor of a New York department store in the 1950s Therese (Rooney Mara) finds herself bewitched by Carol (Cate Blanchett), an older woman on the verge of divorce who is shopping for her daughter’s Christmas present. Both feeling an unspoken attraction to one another they form a friendship, one that starts with lunches and drives but culminates with the two taking a long road trip together. On the road Carol tries to maintain her poise as her divorce and custody battle wages on at home and the younger Therese tries to define herself beyond her temporary job and the boyfriend that she does not love. Amidst the women’s internal struggles is the ever more potent issue; that of their growing feelings for one another and whether either will ever confess to or act upon them.

Carol is a deeply romantic film. Every little detail harkens back to a more romantic age but one in which this particular romance would have been taboo. The expectations for women as a whole in the 1950s were very different to now and for lesbians even more so. This is evident in the hesitation with which the two women reveal their feelings even to themselves let alone each other. Carol in particular is a woman who hides behind a public face. She is never one to appear flustered while Therese’s face gives away her every inner thoughts whether she realises it or not. The combination of the two, an uncertain young woman and her confident older pairing, is utterly mesmerising to watch. Carol is clearly in control and it is easy to see why Therese looks up to her as both a role model and a romantic partner.

Carol 2

Todd Haynes has directed this love story in a way that can only be described as romantic. Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy has adapted Patricia Highsmith’s with a sparing use of dialogue and as such Haynes has accentuated the connection between the women with careful close-ups of hands, eyes, and mouths. We see every shy glance and tentative touch, we see as Therese admires Carol’s strong femininity and the way Carol watches Therese in return. There is an incredible intimacy to most scenes even when the two women are simply sitting across from one another sipping coffee.

The book has made the transition to the screen without damage. Therese is now a passionate photographer, think Vivian Maier, rather than set designer which is well suited to cinematic storytelling and allows Haynes to literally show us Carol through her eyes. The film also allows for scenes without Therese to show Carol’s interactions with Abby (Sarah Paulson). I welcome this controversial move as it softens Carol somewhat who often came across as cold in the original, fantastic novel and gives her a rounder character. All the better to see why Therese fell so hard for her.

In conclusion Carol is a beautiful troubled love story. A timeless piece of cinema as beautiful as it is moving.

Carol screens again at the festival on 17th October but is sold out.

Obvious Child – Film Review

Obvious Child

Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is twenty-something young woman whose life slowly unravels after a successful stand-up gig when her boyfriend unceremoniously breaks up with her in the toilet. With her romantic life in tatters Donna turns to booze for solace and after crashing and burning on stage finds herself in bed with the overly sweet Max (Jake Lacy). One evening of poor contraceptive application later and woman-child Donna is with child. Accepting that she is in no position to have a baby Donna decides to have an abortion but one question remains; should she tell Max?

Obvious Child is a lot of things. It is hilarious. It is sweet. It is important. It is filthy. It is real. It is strident. It is subtle. It is probably the best comedy you will see this year. What Obvious Child is not is an “abortion comedy”. Abortion is not treated in a trivial way and is certainly not the most important element of the film but with abortion being such a heavily debated topic it is the aspect that has been discussed the most. Let’s get that out of the way for now. Obvious Child doesn’t glorify or condemn abortion but simply seeks to show it as a valid choice, something Knocked Up didn’t even consider. From the reaction of female audience members, that of gratitude and tears, this simple treatment of a serious issue is an important step forwards.

As I said before Obvious Child is not actually about the abortion but is about Donna’s relationships with her parents, her friends, her Max, and mostly her relationship with herself. This is the story of a woman finding the strength inside to take control of her life and not just coast through situations. This is a story about friendship, love, and actually listening to the advice your parents try to offer you. Donna is surrounded by a wonderful support network and her falling highlights how happy they are there to catch her. It is also important to note that Donna ultimately saves herself and while romance is a potential outcome it is not the love of a good man that serves as her goal.

Obvious Child - Jenny Slate & Jake Lacy

This might make it all seem a little too serious or worthy but let me tell you that from its opening scene, one of Donna performing stand-up, Obvious Child is ridiculously funny. I have a habit of hooting when a joke makes me lose my self-control and reveal my true laugh and I let out a few too many hoots while watching Jenny Slate give her career-defining performance. Though many modern romantic comedies are filled with unrelatable characters and situations Obvious Child is steeped in reality and all the muck and laughter that comes with it. For the time you spend watching the film Donna is your best friend; she makes you laugh, she makes you cry, and you desperately want her to get her shit together. She’s not perfect but she is far too much fun to be around for this to matter.

As for the romantic side of things let’s just say that Jake Lacy’s Max will be on everyone’s Christmas lists this year. Max manages to be the ideal man and remain human by simply being nice and fun to be around. The idea of a film featuring an abortion may not sound like a romantic classic but rest assured that Obvious Child wouldn’t be the worst choice for a date movie. Unless you’re Todd Palin of course.

If nothing else Obvious Child is a showcase for previously uncelebrated talent from the dramatic and comedic prowess of Slate to the writing and direction of Gillian Robespierre. Robespierre has an eye for unobstructive direction and writes dialogue, with co-writers Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm, that feels real enough to be non-fiction.

I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed Obvious Child. It is the rarest of cinematic creatures; a romantic comedy that has something to say and says it in a way that will make you laugh unattractively.

A must-see Obvious Child is in UK cinemas from tomorrow.