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‘May December’ Review: Natalie Portman And Julianne Moore Dazzle, But Todd Haynes’ Drama Is Too Distant For Its Own Good


There is a postmodernist horror film about performance as predation hidden under the gaze of the semiotician in Todd Haynes’ may december, a complex drama that is intrinsically intimate and yet detached, sometimes almost clinical. The director rummages around in areas that are familiar to him: self-knowledge and public perception, identity and duality, transparency and performance, social norms and the sexual outlaw. But the story’s emotional volatility is muffled somewhat by its approach, probably making this a hard sell outside of Haynes’ devoted admirers.

What shall however, giving the film a considerable amount of traction are the riveting performances from Natalie Portman and frequent Haynes muse Julianne Moore, as two women who run into each other, one trying to dig up the past and the other spent two decades trying to bury it. In particular, an astonishing monologue by Portman in a mirror asks to be seen. But both protagonists do a gripping job with characters continually revealing different sides of themselves, which is fitting given that one of Haynes’s acknowledged inspirations was Bergman’s. Persona.

may december

It comes down to

Always interesting but also a bit remote.

Location: Cannes Film Festival (competition)
Form: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Cory Michael Smith, Elizabeth Yu, Gabriel Chung, Piper Curda, DW Moffet, Lawrence Arancio
Director:Todd Haynes
Screenwriter: Sam Burch

1 hour 53 minutes

Press notes for the film make no mention of it, but the gist of the story recalls the case of Mary Kay Letourneau, a Washington state school teacher who became a registered sex offender and took time off after pleading guilty to the second-degree rape of a 13 year old boy from her sixth grade. Their story became a tabloid sensation in the late ’90s, with feverish headlines about rape and romance (the latter fueled by both parties’ insistence that the relationship was mutual).

Like Letourneau, Moore’s character, Gracie Atherton-Yoo, was in her mid-thirties when she was caught having sex in a pet store warehouse with her Korean-American colleague Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), 13 at the time. their first child while in prison and they later got married. Their case shook up the nation, giving them a certain notoriety from which they have since retreated. However, selling exclusive wedding photos to a tabloid helped finance their home in Savannah, Georgia. Two decades later, hate mail deliveries of boxed feces are rarer, but they haven’t completely stopped.

Portman plays Elizabeth Berry, an actress preparing to take on the role of Gracie in a movie, who travels to Savannah to shadow her and Joe and study the life they’ve built together, aiming for truth in her life. to perform. It is believed that Gracie hopes the project will correct some of the falsehoods that still exist, and that she and Joe will be compensated for their life rights. But given that Gracie has apparently been burned many times (“Remember Judge Judy?”) and how unwilling she is to reflect on the past, the failure of Samy Burch’s screenplay to explain why access is granted, a small hole.

From the start, Haynes plays with the way stories like Gracie and Joe are received and interpreted by the general public, particularly through his use of music. He punctuates scenes—sometimes in humorously subversive ways that flirt with melodrama or soap opera—with the ominous opening motif of Michel Legrand’s baroque-inspired score for Joseph Losey’s The middleman.

Elizabeth first meets the couple at a barbecue in their garden, where she turns up with a bottle of wine from the management’s welcome pack at her posh accommodation. Gracie imagined a woman sitting there quietly judging her from behind her sunglasses, and a protective friend asks Elizabeth to be kind, telling her, “It really feels like things just settled down.” And now you’re all making a movie.’

Elizabeth presents herself as a non-judgmental ally, not asking too intrusive questions at first and busily taking notes on every little detail. But when her questions begin to wander beyond the film’s two-year time frame, Gracie becomes defensive, leaving her exchanges with the actress with a brittle edge. Still, she shares her makeup techniques, takes Elizabeth to her flower arranging class, and later invites her to follow her baking technique for the cakes she sells in the community.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth begins interviewing other people associated with Gracie, including her first husband Tom Atherton (DW Moffet), who starts off nice enough but is uncomfortable getting into the details. She also talks to Gracie’s attorney Morris (Lawrence Arancio), who reveals that Gracie’s local acceptance isn’t quite what it seems. Elizabeth also meets Gracie’s oldest son with Tom, Georgie (Cory Michael Smith, who makes the most of just a few scenes), a brutal gay singer who claims his mother ruined his life.

But the most enlightening glimpses come from spending time with Gracie herself. A great scene in a clothing store was cleverly shot by DP Christopher Blauvelt – filling in for Haynes’ old cameraman Ed Lachmann, due to the latter’s injury – to place Elizabeth between two Gracies thanks to a store mirror. With an indirect barb over her daughter Mary’s (Elizabeth Yu) body, she shows her bluntly critical side. Moore loves to let that same hard edge come through when Elizabeth rubs her the wrong way.

Mary and her twin brother Charlie (Gabriel Chung) are about to graduate high school and go to college. That impending change to the empty nest seems to weigh especially heavily on Joe, along with thoughts of the past evoked by Elizabeth’s presence.

Unlike Gracie, who has the outlet from the occasional crying fit, Joe hasn’t fully processed what happened. While the filmmakers don’t approve of Gracie’s behavior, they don’t scold her either. But there’s a subtle sense that Joe treats her like an adult and vice versa — the hints of patronizing attitude are almost imperceptible in Moore’s expert line readings — meaning Gracie wrote the official story of how their relationship began.

The fundamental difference between Gracie and Elizabeth is established when the former expresses her preference not to dwell on the past and the latter admits that she finds it helpful to reflect on past choices and mistakes. Gracie never seems to have fully understood that what she did was wrong, though she points out that while she is naive, she is not insecure.

The stealth monster in all of this is Elizabeth, with Portman deftly balancing the character’s polished interpersonal skills with her voracious ambition, making every bit of information and behavioral cue fair game as investigative material. On an early giveaway, she visits the pet store where Gracie and Joe were caught in the act, parked herself in the warehouse doorway and squirmed in imagined sexual pleasure, recalling the more demented extremes of Portman’s life. Black Swan play. You might want more scenes from that tenor, giving the movie a more vital boost.

The most shocking developments show Elizabeth’s willingness to prey on Joe’s vulnerability in a scene that includes a welcome rise in temperature and a touch of lurid Single white female creepiness. Even worse is what immediately follows, when she quite literally establishes that she is the adult. The film is not the best advertisement for the humanity of actors.

Melton is very good looking, with a certain kind of beauty that still bears clear traces of his teenage face, even if the limits of his range are visible in some of the more emotional scenes. But to be fair, there aren’t many young actors who wouldn’t be outclassed by Portman and Moore. The turbulence in Gracie and Joe’s marriage threatens to take serious damage, but somehow the film remains too understated to be dramatically satisfying.

The protagonists ensure that it always remains engrossing, but despite the raw nature of the reopened wounds, it’s all a bit icy. At regular intervals, Blauvelt’s camera comes close to the lush vegetation from which Joe picks tiny eggs for his hobby of rearing monarch butterflies. Those images indicate a greenhouse atmosphere whose rather academic may december could have used a little more.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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