Robert McKee’s WORKS / DOESN’T WORK Film Review:

Carol (2015) | Directed by Todd Haynes

McKee Says: It Doesn’t Work (Spoiler Alert!)

Story and Character Clichés:

The Inciting Incident of a Love Story arrives when the lovers first meet and the specific qualities of that encounter shape the drama that follows. CAROL, set in the 1950’s, opens with a shop girl meeting a married woman, a scene saturated with unspoken thoughts and feelings. As a result, the audience naturally anticipates a character-driven tale of psychological complexity inside a secretive lesbian world. Instead, the film quickly switches genre from Love Story to Social Drama. The telling’s actual Inciting Incident happens when Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband decides to use her lesbianism as a legal ploy to win custody of their daughter. This mangy cat of a plot then drags in a scruffy pile of bedraggled clichés–an abusive husband, a chauvinistic society, a sleazy private eye, and a legal system prejudiced against women. When screenwriters switch genres like this, it’s because they aren’t up to writing complex characters for a Love Story, and so they take the easy way out: Social Drama.

Great Performances by the Actresses:

The film is not a total loss and all I can say is “Thank God for actors.” Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara fill their bland, shallow characters with a subtext of their own and save the evening. Cate Blanchett has become such a master of physicalization, rivaling Meryl Streep in her ability to find the body, the look, gestures and vocal manifestations that make a fascinating and specific character.

Art Film Cinematography Cliché:

The film’s presentational genre is Art Film, done in the most self-conscious fashion. I lost count of endlessly repeated images of the women behind windows of every kind, shot in soft focus, the glass streaked with rain or spattered with snow, reflecting the foliage around the car or the house or the wherever. Anytime you come out of a film thinking the thought “Beautifully photographed,” the filmmaking has, in fact, failed. Cinematography should never be decorative but always expressive, an unnoticed transparency that carries us subliminally into the depths of character and story. That takes original, not imitative talent.

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