May December: Todd Haynes’ slow burn is creepy, unsettling and takes you into the depths of being an actor

Aishwarya Srinivasan
New Update
May December

With dark tones, eerie silences and unfolding plot twists, May December is a complex film to say the least!

May December review: Todd Haynes who is known for making movies on unconventional plots, brings us yet another mind boggling story. The film revolves around Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), who was arrested for having sex with her underage employee, Joe (Charles Melton). She was 36, and he was 13. But the film starts when Gracie is out of jail, and 23 years later, the two are married and have three kids. Their lives are disrupted when Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) is around them every minute as she is an actress about to play Gracie in a film. The story is loosely based on the real life story of Mary Kay Letourneau, who was an American teacher jailed for grooming her 12 year old student. 

It was bizarre how when Elizabeth first comes to meet Gracie, she is shown to be this really good neighbor with Joe grilling the barbeque for everyone and all of their community acting normal even though they have a pedophile and a groomer in their presence. And if that wasn’t enough, you get to know how big of a self-centered narcissist she is as the plot keeps unfolding. Gracie expects everyone to talk about her, give her attention and she gets rather upset if it's anything but that. So it goes without saying that when everyone’s energies are shifted towards Elizabeth, every last nerve of her is tested. Also, Gracie has had zero reflection about her life so far, and Elizabeth was here to do exactly the opposite. To understand her better, she had to dissect her entire life, ask uncomfortable questions, and make sense of why she was the way she was. There’s a lot of tension that arises between the two, and that is what most of the film is built on. 

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Charles Melton as Joe is phenomenal. The only notable work of his that I remember before this is Riverdale, and to go from that to this has been a huge growth as an actor. Joe’s entire life is planned out by Gracie, he is given chores to do and his entire being is based on revolving around her and making her happy. When his eyes slowly open to reality and two decade long brainwashing wears off, his realization of what his life has been so far is devastating to watch. How he has lived with his trauma and abuse, how he has just stayed that teenager all his life, how even the smallest of his actions were monitored over was creepy. He made sure that he set his children free, knowing full well that he would always be trapped with Gracie. He never let life turn him bitter towards his children.

When Elizabeth first meets Gracie, she wears jeans and a black top. She is someone who chooses to wear dark colors more, but as she becomes one with her character, you see her dressing up more and more like Gracie. She wears colorful and flowy dresses, and the two of them start looking uncanny. Not just in terms of dressing, she starts talking like her, she becomes her shadow entirely and for the first time you get to see how an actor really gets into the skin of a role, what kind of research really goes in. 

Todd Haynes’ film begins as a slow burn that makes you feel like why are things so dragged, when will it all start making sense until the climax makes you realize why it required that kind of a pace. If you watched the whole film feeling uncomfortable, read between the silences, and saw through Gracie trying to make herself look like something she’s not just for the film, then you’ve got the message of the makers.

May December is currently playing at selected theaters!

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natalie portman julianne moore may december Todd Haynes charles melton