#REVIEW: “MAY DECEMBER”
By Mr. Will Wong
Director Todd Haynes has a knack for telling stories about complex women. After winning raves at Cannes with his latest, MAY DECEMBER takes a complicated love and examines a vast gray area. With small doses of humour and enthralling performances, it succeeds as an uncomfortable watch, which has us thinking endlessly about these characters and their choices.
The Film which very loosely is based on the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal that rocked the nation in the ’90s, centers on Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton). The two met at a local pet shop when she was 36-years-old, married with a kid, and Joe was in seventh grade. They fell in love, and despite much controversy, wound up starting a family together with three kids. Elizabeth (Natalie Portman who also serves as Executive Producer), plays an Actress who arrives, preparing to play Gracie in an upcoming film about a span of two years in the couple’s relationship. While researching the role, she re-awakens past traumas and uncomfortable feelings as the ripple effects of the couple’s forbidden love are uncovered and felt.
MAY DECEMBER is told through subtext. We don’t trust Elizabeth, even though she is the consummate Actress absorbing Gracie‘s essence and trying to understand her thinking, starting every day with a clean slate and a lack of regret. Does Elizabeth have ulterior motives? We also aren’t quite sure how we feel about Gracie, who struggles mentally after Elizabeth’s arrival, confronting difficult feelings from her past, co-operative in answering the Actress’ questions but also guarding herself by questioning Elizabeth’s questions. Joe also carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, and Elizabeth’s arrival really has him thinking about his life path now that he is 36 and his kids are ready to go off to college.
Portman is all in, giving us a layered Elizabeth. She possesses a bravery, unphased by the uncomfortable moments she is thrown into, whether it be answering questions from high school kids about filming a sex scene, or being told straight-up by Gracie and Joe’s daughter at the dinner table they’d rather she not make this movie. She shines throughout, devastatingly good in an unforgettable monologue, acting out one of Gracie‘s letters to Joe. Melton is superb, taking us through Joe‘s journey, soft-spoken, vulnerable and deeply-protective how he and his family are perceived. Moore has a challenging task navigating Gracie’s wave of emotions, but always gathering herself together keeping-up appearances.
The Film is messy and that is exactly why we love Haynes‘ films so much. He recognizes human beings as the flawed multi-faceted beings we are.
Netflix release MAY DECEMBER in select theatres November 17, 2023 and on Netflix December 1, 2023.