The Academy-Award nominated film, “Carol”, starring Cate Blanchett in the title role and Rooney Mara as Therese, a department store “shop girl” deals with a lesbian romance set against the closeted and intolerant era of 1950s America. First titled “The Price of Salt” (and retitled “Carol” in 1990) , the novel was controversial when first published in 1952 prompting the author, Patricia Highsmith, to use a pen name. Other books of the time exploring the same subject, tended to have the heroine devolve into suicide or madness, if lesbianism was even hinted at .
Highsmith apparently drew from her own experience to portray that even a very wealthy woman had to stay under the radar. “Carol” ferociously depicts the discrimination and personal torment that lesbian women faced in the fifties. The romance between Carol and Therese is the major plot, as well as the entrapment in a society’s mores that doesn’t allow them to love.
This could easily have been one of the best movies of 2015, but it is not. I liked it but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. The family dysfunction beautifully displayed at Christmas time (symbolic of family and stress) is not balanced. What should have been a torrid love affair implied between Therese and Carol falls flat. The chemistry between the two actresses was glaringly missing.
Tightly controlled and magnetic performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (as well as Kyle Chandler as the offended husband of Carol) are slowed down by director Todd Haynes (of “Far From Heaven”) who seems to focus on visual scenes at the expense of the storytelling. “Carol” expresses not only a story about two generous souls falling in love but also the mindset of a society entrenched in hard-hearted “values”.
“Side Effects” opens with Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) being released from prison after serving a four-year sentence for insider trading. His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) is frail, severely depressed, and disinterested in Martin’s re-entering her life. Soon her world unravels as she becomes dependent upon a new, experimental antidepressant prescribed by Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), on the recommendation of Emily’s previous therapist Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
The side effects of the antidepressant seem to be the cause for Emily committing a horrific crime and Banks mounts a defense to keep her from being convicted. The crime is bad, really bad. But the question is not who did it but who should be held responsible? What follows is a dark quest for the diabolical truth of this tragedy. You think you know what’s happening — but you don’t. Almost every character has secrets, lies, and hidden motives.
Rooney Mara is stunning as the wounded woman who seems to have been victimized by the antidepressant prescribed to heal her. As her counterpoint, Jude Law gives an almost flawless performance as a self-doubting character who struggles with the consequences and repercussions of his actions defending Emily. Both Law’s and Mara’s characters cause the viewer to vacillate between allegiance and sympathy for one over the other in a dizzying set of changing circumstances. The scenes they share are the most arresting in their complexity and ambiguity of the facts.
By releasing only one detail at a time, we are kept wading through interviews, court hearings, false turns, and psychiatrist visits until, finally, everything comes together. The entire film is very subdued, impeccably structured, and intricate in plot. You will be rewarded in the end as the spiraling momentum towards the conclusion is so unexpected and mostly unpredictable until its final scene.
This film is purportedly Steven Soderbergh’s last work before retiring. Don’t miss it!
[Available on Netflix.]