Celebrated by cinephiles, Todd Haynes is a hit-or-miss director for me. Sometimes I love his work, and sometimes I find it incredibly dull. May December, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, unfortunately falls squarely into the latter category.
Moore plays Gracie, but effectively she is Mary Kay Letourneau, the notorious teacher known for having sex with, and getting pregnant by, 12-year-old Vili Fualaau. After she was released from prison, they ended up getting married, which was fucked up at the time and gets even more fucked up the more you think about it.
May December is set many years later and is a character study of sorts, interested in exploring the dynamics of a sexual predator who sees nothing wrong with what she did and a husband (played by Charles Melton) who is only semi-aware of the twisted relationship he’s ensnared in. Natalie Portman plays Elizabeth, an actress who looks a lot like Natalie Portman, who starts probing for answers as she prepares to play Gracie on screen.
This whole movie is a dud.
Some critics have called it awkwardly funny (IMDB lists it as a Comedy-Drama), but apparently the humor was so intelligent it went through my slow brain without registering. May December is indeed awkward, but only in how awkwardly bland it is.
There are some compelling elements at play. Gracie is a troubled soul, and Julianne Moore is perfectly cast. There are a few scenes that really pull at the facade of a normal existence for her and her much younger hubbie, with Moore perfectly playing with the complex and twisted dynamics in effect.
But Haynes is more interested in Elizabeth, a character that did absolutely nothing for me. Portman isn’t bad, but she didn’t stand a chance. And by design or not, Melton plays an empty vessel; his character had potential to be the most fascinating of the bunch, but all I remember is him staring off into space.
May December may work for some, but it’s a whopper of a nothingburger for me. Its only saving grace is Julianne Moore’s stellar performance, but that’s not enough to justify wasting two hours of your life. You can thank me later.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.