Review: May December – Method acting
Directed by Todd Haynes
Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton
Concerning an old media sensation and the murky morality surrounding it as it’s been reinvestigated, May December features such a scandalous concept that there are expectations for this film to be more controversial and daring than it is. Instead, it keeps its distance from potential controversy as it treads water with this scandal.
Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) is an actress tasked with starring as the lead in a biopic about the scandal of Gracie (Julianne Moore), who in the ‘90s had a relationship with a 13-year-old, even having a child with him. Twenty-three years later, they are still a couple, now with a few kids. Gracie is open to Elizabeth coming into their home and taking notes for this ‘character’, but she becomes more drawn to the husband, Joe (Charles Melton), and where his place was in the whole fiasco.
It’s not usually said, but is often shown, that Elizabeth is getting entirely into her role as Gracie as a way of getting to Joe. There are a handful of moments to show the identity slip between the two women, as Elizabeth may be getting an idea of the woman she’s growing up to become.
The film comes across as rather classy yet also approachable as it explores this intriguing relationship dynamic, helped by very good acting from these three leads. With this kind of scenario we’ve seen before, the film doesn’t do much new with its theme of one woman becoming another. There’s plenty of other films exploring this kind of duality of women, where one is a performer and the other is who’s being performed, such as Persona and Mulholland Drive. This one unfortunately sits in their shadow, as it doesn’t go far enough thematically or cinematically.
May December ultimately stands as a worthwhile film with very good acting and writing, plus some directorial flourishes here and there that always keep it captivating, though there’s always the expectation for a little more. It was recently nominated for a few Golden Globes, strangely including Best Musical or Comedy, as it’s hardly a comedy and contains far more serious inspections into relationship dynamics than amusing one-liners or gags. There may be some playing around with the tone occasionally, but May December is a drama with a very dramatic core to its story and a breezy, relaxed, though sometimes terse execution.
May December plays at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium from Tuesday, December 26 to Sunday, December 31, 2023. For more information and to buy tickets head to perthfestival.com.au