Well, Carol (Cate Blanchett) is a beauty. It's easy to see why people would find her attractive, and want to be around her. She's classy, sophisticated, well-spoken, dresses well, and is always impeccably groomed. What's not to like?
Therese (Rooney Mara) is not bad-looking herself, but she's a department store clerk in the New York City of the early 1950's. About the best she can hope for, career-wise, is to become the supervisor of the other clerks, and that lady is tough, demanding, and mean. And, she snaps her fingers at employees, and looks miserable all the time. Who would want to become her?
Therese has a couple of suitors, one casual and the other fairly serious. So serious, in fact, that he keeps pressuring her to go on vacation with him, and has even offered to marry her first. Therese finds herself not compelled to do either, which makes her wonder if that's all there is. The casual suitor tried to kiss her once, but she found that all she wanted to do was run home quickly. And home is a cramped little apartment where she struggles to pay for heat.
When Carol walks into Therese's department at the store, Therese finds that she can't take her eyes off her. And when Carol leaves her gloves on the counter, Therese takes the trouble to mail them to her (her address supplied by the need to home-deliver her purchase). This kindness prompts a call from Carol, asking Therese out to lunch to thank her. And that produces an invitation to visit.
Somewhere, there's an opportunity missed in this film, in developing the relationship emotionally. Somehow, they spend so much time just being casual friends that we wonder if this supposed attraction is going to lead anywhere. Even when they take a trip together, they stay in separate rooms, until one night they don't. Yes, the love scene that follows doesn't leave much to the imagination. But afterwards they seem almost embarrassed, and another opportunity is missed for taking the emotional connection further.
It turns out that Carol has embarked on an adventure like this before, a few years back, with a childhood friend, so it's not her first rodeo, though she is married, with a child. Not surprisingly, the marriage is struggling, and her well-to-do husband has the resources to not only sue for divorce, but to contest the custody of the child, under a “morals clause” that would be laughed out of court now, but in 1952 was quite serious.
The frustrating part for the viewer is that neither of the main characters seem to know what they want. The (ex) husband is, predictably, arrogant and inflexible and not at all a sympathetic character. In fact, none of the male figures are at all compelling, which is part of how this film descends into caricature chick-flick. And yes, the camera likes both of them, but their dialogue is disappointingly tepid. Overall, it's too slow to develop, and seems always uncertain where to go. Not exactly the blockbuster that was predicted or expected.
Questions for Discussion:
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas