“Joy” and “Carol,” currently playing on-Island, should help retire the derogative term “chick flick.” Both celebrate strong, independent women. “Joy” follows the life of a young woman who becomes an inventor and entrepreneur. Set in the ’50s, “Carol” tells the tale of a forbidden lesbian relationship.
Jennifer Lawrence stars in “Joy,” demonstrating just how far her acting chops range from her role as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” films. “Joy” employs a conventional narrative structure, beginning with the title character’s childhood and watching her grow up beyond that limited world; shades of Martha Stewart without the jail time. The film is narrated by Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) and illustrates how Joy copes with a dysfunctional mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen). Joy grows up to adopt her expected role as wife and mother. Playing her dad Rudy, Robert DeNiro moves into her basement next to Tony (Edgar Ramirez), the husband she has divorced.
Instead of floundering in the typical soap-opera trajectory of tears and defeat, Joy invents a self-squeezing mop and takes it to Tony’s friend Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who runs a TV product show. After a few stumbles, she becomes a rousing success. Isabella Rosselliini enters as Trudy, a love interest for Rudy. Despite its elements of dysfunction, Joy’s family becomes a source of support and encouragement.
Plenty of ups and downs ensue in this star-studded production, written and directed by David O. Russell. What keeps it from turning into another soapy chick flick are Joy’s entrepreneurial talents and the fact that as enticing as Bradley Cooper’s Neil may be, Joy doesn’t need a boost from a male.
Cate Blanchett empowers any movie she appears in, and that is very much the case with Todd Haynes’s “Carol,” based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. She plays Carol Aird, an affluent suburban housewife in the process of divorcing her husband. Director and writer Haynes re-creates with exceptional and lovingly nostalgic skill Carol’s early-’50s world, and his evocation of that long-gone era matches the high level of Ms. Blanchett’s and her co-star Rooney Mara’s acting. Cars, clothes, settings, and season all play a role.
As the ingénue Therese Belivet, Ms. Mara meets Carol when the more worldly and sophisticated woman approaches her counter in a quintessentially ’50s department store at Christmastime. Elegantly groomed in fur, crimson lipstick, and blonde coif, Carol telegraphs her attraction to the younger woman, who aspires to be a photographer. Carol comes across like an enigmatic mannequin. Therese is selling dolls, but she encourages Carol to buy a train set for her daughter Rindy (played by K.K. and Sadie Heim). Although the director does not particularly foreground the issue, class and economic differences clearly play a role in Therese’s initial attraction to Carol. Like a smoking gun, Carol’s gloves, left on the store counter, lead to a meeting between the two women. Increasingly erotic encounters follow, but a sexual relationship is a long time developing.
The plot is augmented by the role of men in both women’s lives. Carol’s husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) projects a strong presence in both looks and actions. Despite the fact that her burgeoning romance with Therese is not his estranged wife’s first lesbian liaison, he loves her and takes many — some extreme — steps to win her back. Therese has a would-be fiancé in good-guy Richard (Jake Lacy), who wants to take her to Europe and eventually marry her. Among the men attracted to Therese is New York Times reporter Danny (John Magaro), who helps land her a photography gig at the newspaper.
Initially Therese is ambivalent about pursuing a relationship with Carol; it takes time for her to fall head-over-heels. One complication after another confronts the two lovers, and the director ends “Carol” with a fitting subtlety.
“Carol” has won two awards at Cannes, five Golden Globe nominations, and one Screen Actors Guild nod. Oscar nominations are sure to follow.