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Oct 20 2023
The Age-Gap Of Innocence: A Review Of Todd Haynes's MAY DECEMBER Comments (0)

May-december-haynes-boycultureNotes on a scandal (Image via Netflix)

If Todd Haynes isn't on your list of greatest living filmmakers, are you even watching movies? 

The queer auteur behind the incredible works Poison (1991), Safe (1995), Velvet Goldmine (1998), Far from Heaven (2002), I'm Not There (2007), Carol (2015) and many others directs film with palpable intelligence and emotion, framed by his singular vision. It's as if every Haynes movie is functioning two large steps to the left of how anyone else would shoot it.

Charles-melton-may-december-boycultureAnd now, exploring the Mary Kay Letourneau-Vili Fualaau story of an adult woman who slept with a 12-year-old without calling it her story, Haynes has contributed another unforgettable and uniquely observed drama to his canon, one that is just about bonkers.

In May December, which played NewFest 35 in NYC the same night Haynes was given the fest's Queer Visionary Award, the filmmaker casts Natalie Portman as a mercurial TV actress researching her upcoming role playing a woman (Julianne Moore) who infamously had sex with a 13-year-old boy by meeting the two 20 years later, after the culprit did time and the two later got married and had children.

Portman's Elizabeth is surprisingly harder to get a handle on than Moore's Gracie. Whereas Gracie's manipulative nature seems jarringly transparent, Elizabeth's reveals itself more gradually, and unevenly. She is a shark, or could it be because Elizabeth is just that good an actress? Haynes brilliantly juxtaposes the two A-list actresses in such a way as to challenge the audience not to view them as slowly morphing into the same person.

This is most thrillingly accomplished via a series of scenes in which both women face a mirror, and the audience and each other. Elizabeth truly seems to be swallowing Gracie whole.

Caught in the middle is Joe, the now grown-up boy Gracie molested under the guise of a divinely inspired romance. Charles Melton of Riverdale is remarkably effective (and has packed on a few extra pounds for the occasion) as Joe, playing him as if his emotional growth was forever stunted at the age when he met Gracie and fell under her spell. It is incredibly uncomfortable watching him interact with his nearly adult children while displaying less maturity than any of them, clearly achingly aware of his shortcomings.

Moore, a frequent Haynes muse, is the black hole at the center of this twisted universe, delivering a character who could be a sociopath but who firmly — securely — sees herself as a naif, the victim. Moore is perfect in this milieu, confidently delivering camp lines like, “Boys are hard!” The subject is serious, but Haynes imbues it with awkward humor by transposing the mundanity of the infamous couple's smalltown life with blunt reminders of how we got here in the first place.

Aiding this offbeat vibe are charming performances by the young actors playing the couple's well-adjusted children (especially Elizabeth Yu), which seem to be from a different movie, and a histrionically operatic score. It all adds up to a riveting sort of parody of a FOX movie of the week, of our tabloid culture, of our obsession with (and yet, ultimately, tolerance of) grooming and even of the movie itself, with each of actressy Elizabeth's insincerities more delicious than the last.

What's more fun than watching a great actress send up acting?

Everyone here is at the top of their game inhabiting bottom-feeders, none more so than Haynes, who never seems to get it wrong, not with Barbies, not with Douglas Sirk, not with glam rock and not with this Mary Kay Letourneau fever dream.

Watch Haynes in action: