The Oscar buzz around Todd Haynes' new movie Carol may focus on the two women, Cate Blanchett's Carol and Rooney Mara's Therese, but Phyllis Nagy's adapted screenplay, from Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, will surely garner an Oscar nod too.
The story of two women, an upper class suburban housewife and mother, and a shopgirl-cum-photographer, and their love affair, subversive for the early 1950s, is timely, with a screenplay that is intelligent, and avoids clichés and sentimentality. Carol is married to Harge (an excellent Kyle Chandler), handsome and moneyed, but the marriage is cold. Yes, there is sex, but not lurid.
If perhaps Carol had tried to run away with a young Brad Pitt type, well that would have been another story. This one delves into the complications and simplicity of two women in love. They can share a hotel room, for example, with no leering eye, unless of course, a detective is in pursuit of evidence for a custody battle. Carol has to make some serious decisions based on the mores for women of her time, the early 1950s, based upon what is best for the child.
The project fell to director Todd Haynes with Cate Blanchett attached. He had cast and directed her as one of his seven Bob Dylans in I'm Not There, and of course she is brilliant: demure, sophisticated and well styled from coiffure to cigarette, as her Therese finds a young model of delicate looks and quiet emotion in Rooney Mara. For these characterizations, Haynes showed his actors a 1956 movie, Lovers and Lollipops, directed by Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, illustrating the femininity of the midcentury. At one point Harge asks Therese, and who exactly are you? He knows his wife has secrets, ones he cannot quite name.
Carol premiered this week with the bash of the season. Cate Blanchett demurred the elegant party. At The Four Seasons, Sara Paulson, who plays Carol's best friend and former lover, balanced a tray of pink cotton candy on her head, decidedly Carmen Miranda in her femininity. Carter Burwell, composer of the film's score may also get an Oscar nod.
Phyllis Nagy spoke about Highsmith, who hated what Alfred Hitchcock did turning her novel Strangers on a Train into its classic and much-admired film. Would she like Carol? Of course it is impossible to know how and to what a quirky author might object.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.