May December movie poster

May December

In theaters December 1, 2023

113 minutes

Official Selection:

Directed by:

Starring: ,

Mary Kay Letourneau. Mention that name to anyone born before 1984 and you’re likely to get a raised eyebrow or head nod as there are only a handful of women criminals as notorious as the former schoolteacher. For those born after the Los Angeles Olympics or who have lived in a bubble these last four decades, Letourneau had a scandalous affair with her 12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau, with whom she had two children with – one while awaiting trial for child rape and the other while behind bars after having forbidden contact with Fualaau. The story made international headlines and made Letourneau infamous. And so it shouldn’t be surprising that Hollywood finally decided to bring a version of the salacious drama to the big screen in Netflix’s May December.

Loosely based on Letourneau and Fualaau’s reomance and eventual marriage to her student, director Todd Haynes casts Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo, a married mother of three who engages in a relationship with her pet store employee, Joe (Charles Melton). Taking place nearly two decades after the torrid relationship came to light, Gracie and Joe are married with three kids of their own – one in college and their twins about to graduate from high school. Residing in Savannah, they have done their best to live a normal life and become a part of the community, so a decision to meet with TV actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) who will portray Gracie in a movie about the couple doesn’t seem like the best decision.

To many, Gracie and Joe appear to be happy and in love, but as Elizabeth continues to observe the twosome and inquire about their relationship with others in town – her ex-husband, her children from her first marriage, her lawyer – Gracie begins to unravel. A woman who relishes in having control, including of her much younger husband, Gracie starts to lose that upper hand and all of the baggage that she’s been carrying around for decades is about to be dumped out for all to see.

Meanwhile, there is something a bit off with Elizabeth. Her attempts to learn what makes Gracie tick and imitate her borders on pure creepiness and her passion for the project starts to come into question midway through the film. Portman’s ability to portray Elizabeth’s descent from observer to participant is captivating – perhaps the only thing captivating in an otherwise underwhelming film.

Haynes’ frames the movie to be far more dramatic than it is and his pace is purposely slow. At times, as painstakingly slow as paint drying. On top of that, May December features the year’s most awful and annoying score with unnecessary tense and dramatic music when the scene doesn’t even necessarily call for it – whether that was done for laughs is up for debate. Yet don’t be surprised when May December receives a best movie nomination despite there being far better films worthy of such a nomination. This is one of those movies that critics love and viewers will be deeply divided on. Moore and Portman, too, are strong contenders to receive nominations as there is nothing Hollywood loves more than nominating the same actors year after year after year. In this case, Portman is more deserving of such a nomination than Moore, but with the actresses expected to compete in different categories, there may be room for both.

May December is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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