May December is an unusually entertaining, if often uncomfortable film that deals with a predatory relationship and how all parties involved view the situation decades later. Portraying a fictional affair that bears large similarity to Mary Kay Letourneau and her life, the film tackles subject matter that is often uncomfortable in a unique way that helps emphasize just how messed up everything was. In that same way we all laugh when we’re slightly uncomfortable, the film almost reflects that sensation as it explores the dynamics of this predatory relationship and the psyche behind both the predator and the victim.
Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) is an up-and-coming actress who’s chosen her next project and role to be the portrayal of the life of Gracie (Julianne Moore), a woman who had an affair with a 13-year-old when she was married and in her 30’s. This was a tabloid “love affair” that rocked the nation, especially after Gracie had young Joe’s (Charles Melton) child behind bars and the two later married. Elizabeth is fascinated by the family dynamics and hopes to pry the truth out of Gracie under the guise of “honoring” her love story.
Going into this film I had half-read the synopsis and had mistakenly thought the film was studying the power dynamic between Moore and Portman, so it was a huge shock watching the film to find out Moore was even more of a predator in the film than I initially though. The way she plays Gracie is almost scary in the sense that she feels next to no remorse for her actions and is truly convinced that she did nothing wrong because they were in love. Moore brings a quiet terror to the film in the control she has over those around her and even though she’s also quite fragile, she’s unpredictable with what she may say or do, leaving Melton to work brilliantly off her performance.
Charles Melton completely embodies this role to his core, shuffling along in the background and making you feel awful for a 36-year-old man who still feels emotionally stunted. Everything from his physical presence to his lack of understanding his own situation just breaks your heart and further emphasizes the drastic effect these events can have on children. Natalie Portman is equally terrific alongside Moore, showing audiences just how far some actors will go to justify their characters actions and attempt to put themselves in that character’s mindset. Her subtle prying from neighbors and family is fascinating to watch and is as equally revealing about her as it is about Gracie.
May December confronts the uncomfortable in a way I’ve truly never seen before, and its unique style truly helps the film’s larger “message”. After growing up with social media in high school and seeing countless stories of teachers sleeping with their underage students, it’s interesting to see it depicted on film because it’s far different than how most assume the situation would be. When I was younger many people joked about sleeping with a teacher like it was an achievement, never paying any mind to what that would be like and how negatively affecting that scenario is for all involved and then for anyone who hears about it. This film may be uncomfortable for some or most, but its perspective really helps drive home a side to these situations that feel underdiscussed, especially in the media.
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