May December

1 hr. 53 min. | Rated M | Sex scenes, offensive language, nudity, and dr

Starring: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Piper Curda, D.W. Moffett, Cory Michael Smith, Drew Scheid, Elizabeth Yu, Jocelyn Shelfo, Andrea Frankle

There’s a real-life sex scandal to the background of this film in which Julianne Moore plays yet another American housewife for director Todd Haynes. It is one about the relationship between a 36-year-old woman and a 13-year-old boy that blossomed into marriage. That might make it sound like a sleazy Netflix true crime show but Haynes doesn’t make films like that.
Haynes’ films often come with a beautiful aesthetic and a knack for getting brilliant performances. Here, in a gripping psychodrama, he creates magic with Moore and Natalie Portman, two decades apart in age but perfectly matched as women of moral complexity.
It’s the fictionalised tale of softly spoken Gracie Atherton (Moore) who, 20 years earlier, gained notoriety and a jail sentence for having an affair with her teenage son’s friend Joe. Three children and a happy marriage later, the couple’s story is being turned into a film with star Elizabeth Berry (Portman) playing Grace. But tensions flare as Berry tries to get inside the head of the scarlet woman.
By focusing on the aftermath, instead of the incident, the potentially sordid story is handled with nuance, an intriguing ambiguity, and even a hint of sympathy. Moore and Portman are extraordinary: Moore adopts a lisping, little-girl voice which jars as Gracie admonishes her much younger husband as if he’s her son. Portman nails “those Hollywood types” by charming the starstruck locals.
Haynes’ style is startling. Melodramatic piano flourishes underscore prosaic scenes of Joe (Charles Melton) tending to his butterflies. One shot has a jolting zoom and clanging of chords as Moore opens the fridge, only to intone innocuously: “I don’t think we have enough hotdogs.”
It’s over the top but exciting – one of Haynes’ signature touches in a film in which he gives the notion of “based on a true story” his own artful twist.

NZ Listener
4.5 Stars

Trailer

Session Times

Poster of May December