“May December” is a film propped up by lead actresses Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman. But it’s the breakthrough, big screen performance of Charles Melton (“Riverdale”) that leaves audiences breathless.
Loosely based on the infamous Mary Kay Letourneau case, “May December” is about up-and-coming actress Elizabeth (Portman) who is slated to portray Gracie Atherton (Moore), an adult woman who served prison time after having an affair with a 14-year-old Joe Yoo (Melton).
23 years after the highly-publicized scandal, Elizabeth gets into character by spending time with the pair — who married after Gracie’s release from prison — and their three adult children.
The film’s content is dark and could easily become overwhelming in the wrong hands, but Director Todd Haynes approaches the subject matter with a humanistic point-of-view.
Moore plays Gracie in her fifth collaboration with Haynes, one that started with the movie “Safe.” Moore is Haynes’ muse, and her ability to make such a problematic character so complex proves why she holds this honor.
Moore portrays her character as childlike, having a lisp and being prone to crying sessions, which helps provide an understanding into her relationship with Joe. But the moments where she decides to break this facade and plays her as a grown-up makes the plot that much more fascinating.
Joe is awkward, but surprisingly mature for someone who endured such a trauma at such a young age. He seems to be the more responsible one in the marriage. An equally complex character, he steals the show when he breaks down and reveals his internal grief.
Portman and Moore are dynamic, critically-acclaimed actresses, but Melton holds his own and at times, blows them out of the water with his performance. His trauma and loss of innocence at such a young age is inhabited, not over-acted or flippantly performed.
While Moore and Melton are allowed to be a little more indulgent in their performances, Portman is forced to restrain herself in the most subtle performance of the movie as she flits between inquisitive and invasive when investigating their inner lives.
The script — which is currently aiming for Best Screenplay at the Oscars — shapes the relationships between the main and supporting characters, a move essential to the film’s success.
Joe’s interest in butterflies helps support themes of change and growth, as Joe and his children experience their own transformations throughout its two-hour runtime. Even the children are respected as side characters and fleshed out properly.
Haynes’ most recent film examines the human psyche, why we choose to do reprehensible, morally-wrong things and the grief that we cause along the way.