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Review: May December. A fascinating journey to nowhere

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Todd Haynes.
  • Producers: Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell, Grant S. Johnson, Pamela Koffler, Tyler W. Konney, Sophie Mas, Natalie Portman and Christine Vachon.
  • Screenplay by: Samy Burch.
  • Cinematographer: Christopher Blauvelt.
  • Music by: Marcelo Zarvos.

Synopsis: an actress who is going to play a woman who seduced and then married a teenager, inserts herself into their lives to do some research about her.

Shotgun Commentary: great build-up leading nowhere in particular. Amazing display of acting skills, though.

Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) looking at the roof of Gracie’s house. Source: May December (Todd Haynes, 2022).
© May December Productions 2022 LLC


May December follows the investigation of an actress, Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), into Gracie (Julianne Moore), the woman she is going to portray in her next feature. She studies her and the relationship dynamics that she has with everyone around her. The more she investigates, the more she is able to mimic her subject and understand the complexity that lays behind the tabloid stories that she knows.

Much ado about nothing

Gracie, is a woman who has an affair with a 13-year-old. After going to jail several times, she ends up marrying him and raising their kids together. The unhealthy nature of her relationship with Joe (Charles Melton), her much younger husband, is the whole attraction of the motion picture.

Since the beginning, the audience can see that Joe is still a child. He is quite simple, obedient and submissive. He doesn’t present any hint of independent thought or rebelliousness until almost the end of the story. This turns all the attention towards Gracie, since the real question is to what extent is she innocent, if any at all, about the events that took place.

Gracie cuddling with Joe (Charles Melton). Source: May December
(Todd Haynes, 2022). © May December Productions 2022 LLC

Slowly but surely, it is clear to the viewers that Gracie is, for reasons unknown, a sociopath who manipulates everyone and every thing around her in order to create what she considers to be “the perfect life”. The reasons behind this compulsion are never discovered, making the journey fascinating, but the conclusion very unsatisfying.

Open endings… Good or bad?

The unfinished plot works both for and against the experience of watching May December. On the one hand, the lack of an ending leaves all the storylines open to interpretation and discussion; on the other, it comes across as lazy. Some unknowns always make stories more powerful and special, but when everything is a big unknown, you begin to wonder whether the whole point of the story was just to feed off a real-life morbid event and capitalise on it.

Additionally, some unknowns have quite clear endings when one takes into consideration the previous occurrences, so avoiding its depiction doesn’t add much complexity, it just seems like they ran out of time.

So worth your time

The greatest success of the movie resides in the performances that it features. The main cast are well-known for their talent, and their delivery for May December is but a confirmation of said skills.

Elizabeth pondering. Source: May December (Todd Haynes, 2022).
© May December Productions 2022 LLC

Natalie Portman’s display is absolutely jaw-dropping. At first, Elizabeth doesn’t seem like too much of a challenge to portray, but the more the begins to look like Gracie, the more interesting she gets. The moment where she delivers Gracie’s words in character is mesmerising. She nails every gesture, tic, and even the intonation and rhythm of her speech. It is gorgeous to watch.

As for Julianne Moore, her performance is complex from the beginning. She shows the many layers of Gracie, with the additional ton of makeup that this woman has carefully put on top of each of them. She is a textbook sociopath whose origins or drive are secret and will remain so during the whole film. The lack of basic knowledge about her makes it impossible to fully understand her. Nevertheless, it also glues your eyes to the screen, making you extra attentive in case you miss any clues about the actual truth.

Elizabeth flirting with Joe. Source: May December (Todd Haynes, 2022).
© May December Productions 2022 LLC

For his part, Charles Melton produces what begins as a pretty mild and forgettable performance that becomes unexpectedly intense and intricate. It is both delightful and heartbreaking to watch as his character, Joe, comes to terms with what actually happened all those years ago, when he started dating Gracie. In addition, he is the only one with a defined arch, a necessarily grounding tale amongst all the abstract-prone, unending storylines.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • You never really get to know a person.
  • You never really get to know yourself.
  • In case you’ve never watched Criminal Minds (Jeff Davis, 2005 – present), this film is here to remind you that terrible childhoods are easily followed by disturbing adult lives.
Elizabeth studying how Gracie applies her makeup. Source: May December
(Todd Haynes, 2022). © May December Productions 2022 LLC

What’s your take? Have you watched May December? What did you think of its ending? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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