May December Image

May December

By Sabina Dana Plasse | December 18, 2023

NOW ON NETFLIX! Director Todd Haynes presents the next edition of his library of films about unusual, bizarre circumstances and behaviors and the people who created these situations. As an auteur, Haynes and his producing, Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler, achieve aspirations of visual storytelling that cuts to the heart of the human psyche. May December maybe one of his best, from the many films they’ve done before.

With a plot as twisted as its ending, the overall premise takes you, as all good films should, on an unexpected journey that shines a light on realities beyond your control. Loosely inspired by the story of Mary Kay Letourneau, a 34-year-old sixth-grade teacher who had an affair with her 12-year-old student, May December picks up on how life would be 20 years later married with children ready to leave the nest. Screenwriting duo Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik make this unusual premise for a story a palpable reality.

Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman ) visits the unorthodox couple, Gracie Atherton (Julianne Moore) and Charles Melton (Joe Atherton), for research for her role as Gracie for her upcoming motion picture. Everyone knows the story of how these two got together, and so be it, except for those who want their moment within the outrage storm. But by all appearances, this is a typical family with an impending graduation to look forward to.

“…Elizabeth Berry visits the unorthodox couple…for research…”

Attitude and confidence exude from Gracie and Elizabeth as they are teamed up as stars in each other’s reality. Gracie’s strength as a mother is like no other, as is Elizabeth’s as a prominent movie star. Both are determined to stand their ground. However, as the story unfolds, Joe’s awakening to the little moments he will never experience turns the plot, especially when Elizabeth steps into a reality and acting cross-current that cannot be undone.

Haynes builds up the drama throughout May December with his most effective devices. Each character embraces their purpose in ways that subconsciously carry viewers through the story with simple actions but complicated motives. It’s mighty and hard to forget. One unforgettable scene is in a pet store where Elizabeth perceives Gracie and Joe encounter each other. However, the most powerful moments come with Elizabeth underestimating Gracie’s self-preservation. It’s unexpected and comes without any cultural bias, making it deep and powerful. Portman delivers a compelling and unabashed performance, one that is award-deserving.

What also makes this an excellent story is the director’s dedication to the location and the culture of where this story happens. It’s bewildering and unsettling yet outrageously quiet, similar to how an addiction starts. As an auteur, Haynes has managed to offer a glimpse into the future through the stories he embraces, and as a director, he is an actor’s guide. Moore has played a lead in several of his most impactful films, including I’m Not There and Far from Heaven. Here, her performance outstrips the perceived tabloid notion and quantifies it as reality, especially within the most dramatic scenes enhanced by the reoccurring jolt of music.

May December was filmed in the climes of Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia’s low country. The production was even more successful with the assistance of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) students. Bravo to all involved, including the next generation of filmmakers from SCAD, who participated in making Haynes’ vision a beautiful reality.

May December screened at the 2023 SCAD Savannah Film Festival.

May December (2023)

Directed: Todd Haynes

Written: Samy Burch, Alex Mechanik

Starring: Julieanne Moore, Natalie Portman, Charles Melton, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

May December Image

"…visual storytelling that cuts to the heart of the human psyche."

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