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REVIEW | MAY DECEMBER

BY BECCA JOHNSON DECEMBER 8, 2023
May December

Directed by Todd Haynes (Carol) and starring Julianne Moore (The Big Lebowski) and Natalie Portman (Black Swan) in leading roles, May December is loosely inspired by the true story of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, who's relationship was a tabloid scandal back in the 90's. A drama that gets under your skin and plays out like a thriller in places, May December is a shocking watch that puts character development at the forefront to create an addictive and intoxicating watch.


SYNOPSIS

Twenty years after their notorious tabloid romance gripped the nation, a married couple buckles under pressure when an actress arrives to do research for a film about their past.


REVIEW

May December follows the relationship between Gracie (Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton) through the eyes of Elizabeth, an actress set to play Gracie in an upcoming film. As Elizabeth slowly starts to uncover the layers of their seemingly perfect relationship, the audience does too, and more and more depth is added to the story. We are able to get an unbiased look at Gracie and Joe's dynamic, emotions, love life and relationships with others, and the script allows it's audience to think about where those behaviours and traits might have come from. Gracie is emotionally dependent on Joe and often suffers from her choices despite trying her best to mask that, and Joe is very emotionally stunted, the pair having a lot left unsaid between them. We know their relationship and what Gracie did in the past was wrong, but the script cleverly doesn't reveal how their relationship was built right away; this allows us to develop thoughts and feelings about their characters before the truth is revealed. Not only does this add shock value, but it allows us to ask questions we may not normally ask.

May December

May December shines by not just giving us a look into Gracie and Joe, but how their relationship has affected those around them, including their children and Gracie's ex-husband. As actress Elizabeth undertakes her research, we see her meet many people from Gracie's past and present, giving both herself and us as the audience as full a picture as she can. We meet people who are on both sides of the spectrum when it comes to their thoughts on the relationship, and we slowly learn that the pair both have people who shun them, and people who protect them. It also has a lot to say about how as a society, we often forget that those jaw-dropping stories that we mock and laugh at somebody's real life. However, the most information can be learnt during those quiet moments alone, when Elizabeth is spending time with Gracie and Joe respectively. She manages to get out of them what many others can't, showing how broken they truly are, and it's heart-breaking.


This is a slow burner of a flick, and despite being labelled as a drama/comedy, it has a way of getting under your skin, unsettling you and building tension as confidently as any thriller can. What makes May December so chilling is how effortlessly breezy it is, despite what's at the forefront – it's almost uncomfortable how the scenes sweep by, with so many unsaid words and unfelt emotions between the characters. It's full of warm tones, gorgeous cinematography and a comforting vibe that allow you to settle into it's story. It's the movie equivalent of everybody in a room pretending everything is okay, yet something ridiculously terrible is happening. The silences are uncomfortable, and despite it not being entirely graphic, it's often a difficult watch.

May December

What brings everything together so perfectly is the fantastic performances at the forefront. Portman is fantastic as Elizabeth, an actress who at times seems like she's starting to become Gracie, due to subtleties in her performance and looks. Portman is a star, and it's nice to see her in a dramatic thriller again. Moore is hauntingly beautiful as Gracie, the tabloid topic, who did the unthinkable and still to this day stands by it. Moore perfectly captures the complexity of the character, how quietly broken she is, and how she so desperately wishes to lead a normal life with her husband. She shows a huge amount of emotional range, and it's one of the best performances of her career. Despite how wonderful our leading ladies are, stealing the show entirely is Charles Melton (The Sun is Also a Star), in the husband role as Joe. Giving a star-making performance and proving he has serious acting chops, Melton is incredibly emotional, harrowing and complex within every frame. The script truly allows him to shine as it delves into his psyche, showing us how damaged he is from the event and how he's forever lived in the shadow of the scandal. Those saying he should be front-runner for supporting actor might not be far off.


May December is a film that should not be overlooked, especially as we head slowly but steadily towards awards season. It's themes are expertly explored, it's performances are some of the best of the year, the cinematography is beautiful and the score has such a strong presence, tying everything together so well. May December unsettles you in clever ways, and is bound to stay on your mind for days after viewing.


STAR RATING

Rating May December

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