July 22, 2024

MAY DECEMBER (2023) – Buried emotions and truth in a confusing narration

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Rating: ⭐⭐

This is not a film for everyone. In fact, I imagine that the majority of casual moviegoers would find this to be a frustrating watch. I can’t say I blame them. May December often moves aimlessly, and many scenes can be perplexing. I have admit that I was feeling irritated by the film when it ended. But a strange thing happen. I could not get the movie out of my mind days after I had watched it, thinking about what I saw and trying to understand the whole thing.  Reading other people’s reactions and reviews to this film provided some answers, which helped me appreciate it more.

May December has an amazing story buried under all the film’s unconventional narrative style. Director Todd Haynes, the director, chose to present the film in a disjointed manner, introducing characters and the story without the usual spoon feeding of what we are watching. It’s as if we’ve barged into a party and been left to our own devices to get to know everyone and blend in. Julianne Moore plays Gracie, a convicted child molester who had an affair with a 13-year-old child and became pregnant. She later married the boy and appears to be leading a loving relationship with her husband as well as a normal family life with three teenage children. Natalie Portman appears as actress Elizabeth, who is playing Gracie in a film adaptation of Gracie’s scandalous affair. Gracie agrees to have Elizabeth get to know her and her family for reasons that aren’t entirely convincing, to help her prepare for her role. The film follows Elizabeth as she interacts with Gracie, her family members, and other people involved in the infamous case. Everybody appears to be harboring secrets and we are never sure what is truthful or what is not. At the end, we are left to form our own conclusions since we do not know anything for sure.

My initial instinct is to dismiss this movie and not recommend it. However, upon better understanding of what Todd Haynes is trying to achieve, I would give this film a pass, It may possibly be some people’s cup of tea as evident by the generally positive critical feedback and even talk of Oscar nominations for the film’s leads. I have to admit that having Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman together is a coup in itself and a treat. They performed as well as they could under the unorthodox direction. Charles Melton impressed with his portrayal of the young adult of the boy who was supposed to have been molested by Gracie when he was 13. His role is actually pivotal to the story because his character has to deal with so much from a mental and emotional level, having lost out on experiencing a normal transition from teenage years to adulthood.

May December is not based on a true story, but it is loosely based on a late-90s scandal involving a 34-year-old elementary school teacher who had a sexual relationship with her 12-year-old student. Like in the film, the teacher was arrested, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree child rape, and gave birth to their first child while incarcerated. As I previously stated, there is an incredible story buried beneath Todd Haynes’ arthouse direction. It is different so that makes it worthy of at least a watch to open our minds to a different style or story telling.

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