Perhaps I expected too much. But I was disappointed by Todd Haynes’ tasteful yet tedious adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, “The Price of Salt,” published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan because Highsmith’s mother disapproved of her daughter’s romantic preference for women. Read on…
Since Cate Blanchett is one of our finest actors, it’s Oscar-bait, although I felt her performance in James Vanderbilt’s “Truth” was far superior. And elfin Rooney Mara does her best to replicate Audrey Hepburn’s gamine appeal, so popular in the ‘50s, the era in which this lesbian melodrama is set.
Carol Aird (Blanchett) is a wealthy about-to-be-divorcee who meets salesgirl Therese Belivet (Mara) while shopping for a Christmas gift for her young daughter Rindy. Because the New York department store is out of the doll she wants, Therese recommends a train set, which Carol promptly buys, leaving her expensive leather gloves on the counter.
After Therese mails back the gloves, Carol invites her to visit her elegant New Jersey home. While they eye each other longingly, they’re repressed, maintaining a modest demeanor.
Then, Carol asks Therese, an aspiring photographer, to accompany her on a cross-country trip in her gunmetal gray Packard. Clad in her mink coat, glamorous, gold-haired Carol is exquisite; insipid, indecisive Therese is infatuated.
Eventually, they acknowledge their yearning and physical attraction. Problem is: they exhibit neither sexual chemistry nor emotional rapport. There’s no playfulness, no humor. Only angst – and guilt.
Indeed, languid Carol seems to relate far better to her ex-lover Abby (Sarah Paulson), who remains her best-friend/confidante, coming to her aid when the going gets rough.
Working with screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, Todd Haynes’ (“Far From Heaven”) slow-paced direction is stylishly restrained, aided immeasurably by cinematographer Ed Lachman and costumer Sandy Powell.
Curiously, the most sensitive, affecting scene is not between the two women. It’s when Carol finally confronts her bitter, bewildered husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), begging him to put their daughter’s welfare above his vindictiveness in their on-going custody battle.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Carol” is a furtive 5 – that’s overly fetishistic and formalized.