“May December,” directed by Todd Haynes, tells a deeply complex and eerie story about the relationship between a husband and wife. The central issue about the relationship is something that is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the film that keeps you wondering and on the edge of your seat.
The film is loosely inspired by the real case and relationship between Mary Kay Letourneau, who was a convicted sex offender and teacher, and Vili Fualaau. This disturbing case is used as the basis for “May December” but with a unique element added on by Natalie Portman’s character Elizabeth Berry.
Berry is an actress who will be playing Julianne Moore’s character, Gracie Atherton-Yoo, in an adaptation of her life. The film takes place over the course of about two weeks where Berry studies Atherton-Yoo closely in her beautiful beach home in Savannah, Georgia.
The closer Berry becomes with both Atherton-Yoo and Joe, played by Charles Melton, the more is revealed about the truth about their intense relationship that began while Joe was in middle school and Atherton-Yoo was 36 years old. You do not understand the full story behind their relationship until the last act, which was incredibly compelling and an interesting choice. The more time Berry spends with this couple, the more you witness her becoming completely indulged in their odd lives.
Though the film is categorized as romance drama, I would add the third category of thriller. It certainly would not be the typical thriller, but certain aspects and themes carry over. The soundtrack plays a big role in this film and adds to the thriller aspect, the music is essentially its own character. Coming in at just the right time or times to catch you off guard.
This film could easily be dismissed as a “nothing happens” or “just vibes” type of movie, but if you are a fan of complex characters who develop as the film progresses then this is for you. Each character puts on this persona in front of others to hide themselves or their intentions and you watch them slowly reveal their true selves as they spend more time together.
Berry’s job to observe Atherton-Yoo begins to creep into an uneasy territory as she learns more about her backstory. There are several scenes involving mirrors to very literally portray Berry’s desire to embody Atherton-Yoo in every aspect including mannerisms, appearance and voice. Berry becomes a different kind of predator than Atherton-Yoo, one that is invasive and peculiar.
Despite the two Oscar-winning actresses at the forefront, Melton steals every scene he is in. Joe is a deeply damaged and confused character who is unknowingly still traumatized by the actions of his childhood. Melton beautifully portrays a man who is slowly coming to terms with what’s happened to him and how it is affecting his relationship with his own children and his own emotional stability. One of his standout scenes is with his son in which he becomes vulnerable with him and admits he is not sure how to properly parent and worries about how they are being raised. While Atherton-Yoo’s actions are almost treated as normal by some characters in the film, Joe is a direct reminder of the carnage she has caused. Melton certainly deserves a chance at a nomination for best supporting actor this awards season.
The location of Savannah, Georgia was absolutely stunning. Almost the entire film includes scenes outside in nature or in a sunny setting, making the moments in the darkness stand out. The scenery is used as a distraction to the strange situation at hand, one would not expect such a scandalous story in a huge beach home with dogs and a seemingly happy family.
Moore and Portman are incredible together and balance each other out. Portman’s portrayal of Berry is truly peculiar and thought-provoking, I will never watch a biopic the same way I did before this movie. The way she tip-toes and crosses the bounds of actress and real life is interesting and makes you wonder about the actor process, particularly method acting.