Sunday, April 17, 2016

Birthday Take: Rooney Mara in "Carol" (2015)

Rooney Mara in Carol
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Rooney Mara
Born: April 17, 1985 (31 years old)
Nomination: Best Supporting Actress - Carol (nominated) as Therese Belivet

The Take

Depending on who your online film critic friends were, you likely heard about director Todd Haynes' Carol a lot. People (myself included) were calling it a masterpiece and was one of the all time great LGBT love stories ever put to film. However, there's a lot of confusion when it came to Oscar nominations. It was a film about two women, played by Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Rooney Mara (Therese). Much like in the past, the choice of who got lead and supporting became problematic, especially as the film's marketing department (one of the rare blunders by Harvey Weinstein) failed to get the film recognized at the box office. Carol is a film that will endure without this prestige, but it's still nice to have.

So, here's the issue with who got lead and supporting. While one could argue that the title character is therefore the lead, there's many instances to counterattack this. In the case of Carol, it should be noted which actress had the vantage point in the story. Yes, Carol was important. However, Carol was the object of Therese's desire. Even if the film fleshed out Carol's character from the mysterious nature in t he novel "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith, she still was the quest for Therese. Therese is technically the lead, and it is likely why many were upset when Blanchett got the lead nomination. Even if she was the bigger name and had the most iconic shot in the film, she still was a supporting figure.

It could partially be because Mara's performance doesn't really strike one as being complicated. The film is very silent, rarely breaking it to elate in whimsical conversations. It's really the looks that the two give each other that speaks volumes, allowing the viewer to interpret deeper intentions. For instance, take the department store scene. Mara looks at Blanchett. Nothing is said, but her eyes have a certain longing that causes the viewer to understand her deeper desires. She doesn't really do much that's extraordinary, and Blanchett does get the better lines. However, she is still the submissive soul, longing for a partner. It's in her joyous silence that we understand her intentions.

Of course, it's just strange to think that Mara is a two time Oscar nominee. It's not because she's unqualified. If anything, she's overdue for more nominations. However, between Carol and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she has quite the resume and range. Where the former is reserved, the latter sees her in a more aggressive and neurotic performance. They're both very understated, but they represent a certain charisma that isn't easy to pull off. Carol just happens to be more traditional. When considering that nuanced performances often don't get the win, it makes sense why Mara was never taken as seriously as the category's actual winner Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl (which deserves a resounding eye roll). 

Carol isn't even a year old yet, so the praise lumped onto it does at times seem irrational and overwhelming. However, it's a film in which you appreciate the acting as well as the directing. While Haynes' camerawork is very impressive, one cannot underestimate how different the film would've been if the two actresses didn't show any sign of connection. It's a tough thing to pull off, and Mara did it brilliantly. One can only hope that the next time that she's nominated, that she will actually land a nomination in the right category. It's more than worthy of her talents. 

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