Surprisingly...boring. Proof that good representation does not necessarily make a compelling film, I guess.
'Carol' is an adaptation of a 1950s Patricia Highsmith novel originally titled "The Price of Salt." The story itself was ground-breaking because during that time lesbian women weren’t really allowed to have "happy endings"--that would seemingly encourage homosexual devilry and be affirming to gay people, I guess. It is actually pretty ambiguous and that was about the best one could hope for in those days. The movie we have today is clearly a labor of love; it was tediously conceived and filmed over a period of 11 years. This is partly due to Highsmith's friend, Phyllis Nagy, working on making a believable screenplay that did the novel's more experimental style justice. And as far as adaptations go, it's probably a good one. I wouldn't know as I haven't read the original novel, so bear that in mind. It's possible that lots of qualities in the film I take umbrage with are largely due to the tendency of film-makers to be a little too faithful to the source material, and clearly "The Price of Salt" is not one of those books that translates easily from print. So with that said...
I found myself engaged primarily by the gorgeous filmography and acting as opposed to the plot. It wasn't wholly uninteresting--there were a number of engaging parts, particularly involving Carol's personal struggles with her husband and fight to get custody of her daughter--but I just felt as though they were disproportionately shrugged off in favor of boring, dreamy, wordless stares which seem to go on for hours at a time. Which were lovely! But still boring. 'Carol' seems like a film that could have benefited from far more moments of personal intimacy and vulnerability and far fewer scenes of desperately silent artistry. It just didn't feel particularly "real" to me, so to speak. Therese is about as well-developed as a background character and as engaging as off-white paint. She's obviously aware of this: "I don’t know what I want. How could I know what I want if I say yes to everything?"
Because that is, quite literally, what she does in the film. Taken with the beautiful and charming Carol, she honestly shows no hesitation in doing practically anything asked of her; coming to lunch, coming to Carol's house, leaving her life behind for a road trip with someone who's practically a stranger, etc. Even in the final scene, after all these two have gone through, she shows hesitation in actually moving in with Carol...and within 15 minutes or so, has had a change of heart and approaches her as the credits roll. I have a more tortured, lengthier inner struggle when I'm deciding which cereal to buy at the grocery store.
Perhaps that's the point; Carol is painted, obviously, as someone who’s ethereally attractive and very easy to fall for. But that easily? I don't think the two of them even had a conversation longer than 5-10 minutes in the time before Therese decided to uproot her life and go on a trip to the Midwest with her. I understand that this film is an adaptation of a novel published in the 50s and as such is not necessarily going to be reflective of truly modern relationship interactions*, but a little more development between these two would not have been remiss. I think this problem may go much deeper and is kind of indicative of issues within the romance genre in particular; you get a lot of fluffy content and ultimately wind up with people who have apparently fallen in love through lots of staring and not much else, and that's that.
I think 'Carol' is just an OK romance film hailed as a critical masterpiece because the two leads happen to be the same gender. It's not bad, but it definitely is not good enough to be nominated for 'Best Picture' by any measure. I'm sure a lot of straight people love it as a standalone film because they think it gives them Ally Credentials or something, which in the meantime makes me wonder--what on earth do you even think actual gay relationships are like, really? Just putting that out there as someone who's, well, in one.
* or perhaps the book is far better and I should actually read it as opposed to making baseless speculations?