May December

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

May December
dir Todd Haynes
scr Samy Burch
prd Natalie Portman, Sophie Mas, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Grant S Johnson
with Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Elizabeth Yu, Gabriel Chung, Cory Michael Smith, DW Moffett, Piper Curda, Kelvin Han Yee, Zachary Branch, Charles Green, Lawrence Arancio
release US 17.Nov.23,
UK 1.Dec.23
23/US 1h53

portman moore melton
london film fest

Is it streaming?

moore and melton
Layered and provocative, this melodrama is infused with a mystery-thriller sensibility, building tension and intrigue in the interaction between nuanced characters. Director Todd Haynes plays cleverly with perspective to explore the ways we try to understand others, sympathise with them and merge their experiences with our own. It's a fiendishly clever film that gleefully deploys a range of metaphors in ways that both lead and wrongfoot the audience.
Arriving in Savannah, movie star Elizabeth (Portman) is researching her role in a film about Gracie (Moore), who was imprisoned for her affair with now-husband Joe (Melton) more than 20 years ago when she was 36 and he was 13. Elizabeth meets their teen twins (Yu and Chung), Gracie's ex-husband (Moffett) and their troublemaking adult son Georgie (Smith). But Gracie has a way of hiding herself while quietly controlling everyone around her. So the question is whether Gracie is learning new tricks from Elizabeth. And if Joe is seeing his life from a new angle.
Every moment in this film is insinuating, dropping in hints and opinions about past events that sensationally hit national headlines. The facts are complicated by many issues, including both Joe's and Gracie's childhoods. And their relationship now is warm and loving, with subtle overtones of codependency. In other words, there's always more to the story. And ideas are tweaked by the fact that Joe is raising monarch butterflies, Gracie bakes cakes and Elizabeth is willing to stir things up.

Portman and Moore are terrific, inventively mimicking each other to reflect how these two women are interacting on multiple levels. Both of them are concealing their emotional reactions to the things they are learning about each other and themselves. These are unusually nuanced performances that pull the audience in deeper and deeper, providing an almost urgent feeling of underlying tension. And the beautifully understated Melton is also excellent in a difficult role that shifts in unexpected directions along the way.

This is a clever collision of two outrageously artificial institutions: the tabloids and moviemaking. So of course the way they intersect is fraught with drama. Each of these characters find their real lives consumed by the messy story they are either living with or trying to tell. And both Burch's writing and Haynes' direction knowingly blur the lines between fact and fiction, reminding us that there's quite a bit of both in any tale we hear. Including the ones we tell ourselves.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 7.Oct.23 lff

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall