© Wild Bunch Germany GmbH / Central Film Verleih GmbH

May December
U.S.A. 2023

Opening 30 May 2024

Directed by: Todd Haynes
Writing credits: Samy Burch, Alex Mechanik
Principal actors: Natalie Portman, Chris Tenzis, Charles Melton, Julianne Moore, Andrea Frankle

Details are altered, yet May December’s inspiration is definitely the 1990s incident capitalized on by director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Samy Burch. The scandal out of Washington state generated salacious, blistering reading in tabloids and newspapers across the American landscape: Mary Kay Letourneau, thirty-four, had sex with Vili Fualaau, her twelve-year-old Samoan student. She pled guilty, was convicted of two counts of felony second-degree rape of a child and served seven-plus years in prison. Letourneau bore Fualaau two daughters while incarcerated; they married in 2005.

The melodrama starts twenty-four years later in Savannah, Georgia; Julianne Moore portrays Gracie, i.e., Letourneau and Charles Melton portrays Joe, i.e., Fualaau, albeit Korean-American. Obviously affluent and married, their twins are on the cusp of graduating from high school. Natalie Portman plays a fictitious character, the fictitious Hollywood star slated to play Gracie in a film about their unnatural affair. Elizabeth Berry (Portman) arrives during a family barbecue, intent on worming her way into their lives to prepare for her role. Naturally, everyone is under a certain amount of strain anyway. In the days following, Gracie is off-put by Elizabeth’s forays interviewing her ex-husband (D.W. Moffett), neighbor-cum-attorney (Lawrence Arancio), et al. Twins Mary and Charlie (Elizabeth Yu, Gabriel Chung respectively) are awed, aloof, older sister Honor (Piper Curda) is downright dismissive, and Georgie (Cory Michael Smith), Gracie’s youngest from her first marriage, audacious—all the families live suffocatingly close-in. During this swirling transitional celebratory period the two strong women continually outfox the other for personal advantage.

Oscar® winners’ Moore and Portman’s characters are finely defined, intense personality studies—notice how Portman mimes Moore’s characteristics, even the lisp. Elizabeth, whose method acting comes dangerously close to destroying lives, never mind moral issues concerning unethical behavior in pursuit of art, sees life as stories. Gracie, immorally blasé and unrepentant, subtly runs the household and its periphery, flaunting personal invulnerability. Their dazzling performances emanate controlling, insulting, manipulative, conniving women—great acting at its best. And Melton irrefutably conveys Joe’s discontent and midlife feelings of disquiet. The other sketchily drawn characters and scenes distract; Marcelo Zarvos’s score is indiscernibly, objectionably loud. May December’s impressionable screenplay falls into the trap of too many emotional, ethical, and moral points and subplots that trivialize the compelling performances at its core. (Marinell Haegelin)

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