May December (2023)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 4, 2023 @

May December (Netflix) is a furtive, psychological journey.

It is challenging to get on its wavelength, because its wavelength is multi-faceted. It veers off track.

The characters tell truths, half truths, and lies. What is true? How do they cope? How do they relate?

Set in 2015 in Savannah, Georgia (originally it was set in Maine), May December is the tale of survivors of a scandal who have to revisit it, when Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) an accomplished television actress visits them to do research for a film in which she is going to play the female.

The scandal was about a sexual affair between an adult and a youth. Adult Gracie Atherton had a sexual affair with 13-year old boy Joe Yoo. When they were caught she was sent to prison.

When she had the affair, she was married to another man and had three children. She divorced him, and eventually married Joe and they have been married for two decades and have three children. But all is not as resolved as it may seem.

May December abounds with ironies. Joe (Charles Melton) and Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) are both 36 in the present. Joe went to school with Georgie Atherton, Gracie's son, at the time of the affair. Georgie, now 37, seems to have been a victim of the affair and its lasting effects. As were several characters.

Relatives gather for a graduation. But it is not only a graduation from high school. It has further reverberations.

Gracie (Julianne Moore) is not what she seems. She attempts to create an image of stability, but it is just an image. We all play parts.

Director Todd Haynes is effective at creating levels. There is a lot of nuance, but at times there is lack of clarity that dulls it. Some of the symbolism is relevant, e.g., the butterfly.

Music is a crucial character in May December. In his musical score Marcelo Zarvas utilizes selections from Michel Legrand's formidable music in The Go-Between (1971), which had a potent theme of suppressed love and its ultimately negative effects on a boy. The music helps provide a powerful, evocative element.

The co-screenwriter is Samy Burch, a casting director doing her first feature film screenplay with her husband. Burch is no Harold Pinter, who wrote The Go-Between. Some of her themes are blunted. Others are provocative.

Being provocative is Todd Haynes forte.

May December is a credible tour de force.

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin