In an exclusive preview at LEFFEST 2023, 17th Lisbon Film Festival, which took place between the 9th and 19th of November, and in the Out of Competition section, we were able to see “May December”, the most recent feature film signed by the prolific North American director Todd Haynes.
The author of notable and award-winning works such as “Far from Paradise” (2003) and “Carol” (2015) returns with a drama with a strong black comedy flavor, written by Samy Burch from the story created by him together with Alex Mechanik. Does it equal the impact of some of his most powerful works? Not really. Nevertheless, the feature film explores human behavior in an inventive way and parodies the “creative process” of dramatic actors, while scrutinizing our fascination with forbidden fruit and scandal.
With this project, Todd Haynes It is Julianne Moore mark their 4th collaboration (recently, they had cooperated in the “Wonderstruck – The Museum of Wonders“) and we do not fail to celebrate this blessed association of yours. In “May December”, Natalie Portman It is Julianne Moore they are unforgettable in a drama that sometimes slips into the melodramatic, and that in the hands of a less talented director and screenwriters would have been a complete disaster. However, Haynes knows how to properly explore his disconcerting characters.
Portman and Moore are truly the heart of the work, as the story plays with the concept of Doppelgänger, creating a surreal and plastic atmosphere from the first moment. The suspension of reality never happens, with events being anchored in concrete. But just barely, just barely. At any moment, this whole farce (unless it is) could collapse like a house of cards. And it is in this same tension that we find the true value of “May December”.
This is the story of two women: The first is Elizabeth (Portman), a famous actress who travels to a quiet village, a place that gives us a strong feeling of ‘nowhere’, just another apparently idyllic North American suburb, similar to so many others. Here, you will find Gracie (Moore), as he prepares to play her in a new independent film.
More than 20 years ago, Gracie had caused a tabloid scandal with lasting consequences when she began, at the age of 36, a romantic relationship with a 13-year-old teenager, Joe (here played by Charles Melton). Gracie and Joe got married, started a family, but all their domesticity is equipped with a permanent bizarreness that is unavoidable, no matter how much love is professed. In the aura of this representation float ‘Lynchian’, ‘Hitchcockian’ and ‘Bergimanian’ influences.
The surreal sticks and doesn’t want to let go and the casting has a fundamental role here: Joe is 36 years old in the narrative, the age Gracie was when she met him, but approximately 30 in real life. After all, Melton had played a teenager in the series “Riverdale” between 2017-2023 and has participated in other film content for young adults in recent years. Seeing him alongside Julianne Moore’s Gracie, along with their teenage children, never fails to disconcert and provoke a strong feeling of uncanny.
For this constant aura of consternation contributes greatly to the work of sound mixingwhich leaves us in a permanent state of alarm, right from the first scenes, which immerse us in a family life that is equal parts banal and the object of the construction of an almost thriller. The ridiculous situation exposed here is never treated with genuine seriousness, that’s for sure. However, we also cannot say that this is a parody: either of the formation of public opinion or of the process of creating a character for a film (which is elusive and cunning in nature). “May December” moves nimbly, in order to escape strict definitions.
If it weren’t for Gracie and Joe’s cohabitation being so unusual and full of stuffy dilemmas about personal responsibility and current social normsbehold, Elizabeth (a stunning Natalie Portman, worthy of praise) has a single merciless objective: to understand the reasons that motivated this union, how Joe was influenced (‘groomed’) and what secrets hide in Gracie’s mind.
The two female characters play a game of cat and mouse, as Elizabeth seeks to understand her ‘character’. The deeper you get into this game, the more deliciously complex and difficult to achieve your objective seems. Along with this observation about the grotesque and simplistic ‘Hollywood’ representation of true crime and true narratives, the film counterbalances its strangeness with some honest reflections on guilt, personal growth and strong processes of denial that shape the way we interact with ourselves and others.
As a reflection, “May December” leaves us with more questions than answers and we couldn’t expect anything less from Todd Haynes. We expected the world from Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman and, after this viewing, the feeling has not changed. Charles Melton ends up surprising, as we only knew characters that were a little more one-dimensional and here he creates a complex persona, equipped with stillness for much of the time and guided by some hints of depth that never fail to disarm us and bring humanity to a story. camp which serves as a duel space for the giants Portman-Moore.
“May December” had an exclusive premiere at LEFFEST and arrives at November 30th to commercial cinemas. Afterwards, you will find a home in Netflix. In Portugal, it is distributed with the subtitleo “Secrets of a Scandal”.
TRAILER | MAY DECEMBER, BY TODD HAYNES, IS ALMOST ARRIVING IN CINEMAS
May December, under review
Movie title: May December
Movie description: Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) is a famous actress who wants to meet Gracie (Julianne Moore) whose role she will play on the big screen. Two decades earlier, Gracie had caused a scandal in the press due to her relationship with teenager Joe (Charles Melton), 23 years her junior. The encounter results in a painful return to the past for Gracie, who seeks to move forward, faced with a dangerous search for the truth by a Hollywood star at the height of her career.
Date published: November 22, 2023
Author: Samy Burch, Alex Mechanik
Director(s): Todd Haynes
Actor(s): Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton
Genre: Drama, Comedy,
“May December” is a delicious narrative populated by camp and surreal sensibilities, where two great performers leave their indelible mark.
- The central trio, quite balanced.
- The brutal honesty present in certain dialogues, which disarms us.
- The plasticity and atmosphere of alarm created by the mix of sound and editing from the first moment.
- A certain melodramatic and soap operatic quality that is inherent to the structure of the plot, which may not be to the liking of any viewer.