May December

Directed By Todd Haynes

Starring – Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton

The Plot – Twenty years after their notorious tabloid romance gripped the nation, a married couple (Moore, Melton) buckles under pressure when an actress (Portman) arrives to do research for a film about their past.

Rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and adult language

May December | Official Trailer | Netflix – YouTube


Deviating once more from a career that has been defined as anything but repetitious, Haynes taps into the pulpy campiness of telenovellas, with an unforeseen element of tonal consistency that feels essential to the kind of melodrama’s that feel like they could play anywhere between Cinemax and Lifetime Television. That isn’t a knock on the film’s tonal range, but actually a compliment, as it not only drives a uniquely compelling freshness to Haynes’ work while carrying the same kind of ferocity for femininity that we’ve come to expect in him illustrating such complex female characters, but also an engagement that refuses to take itself too seriously, despite the magnitude of the plot pertaining to everything from the ideals of duality, to a marriage based on statiatory rape. In such, the film is a bit of an homage to 90’s teacher-turned-convict Mary Kay Letourneau, without being a downright biopic, choosing instead to borrow aspects and elements from the story, while incorporating an outsiders perspective in the depths of Portman’s curious party, who constantly feels like the wedge between the couple that periodically drives them apart. The performances are exceptional across the board, with Moore and Portman both worthy of the kind of Academy acclaim that earns each of them a nomination, next March. Portman commands the screen with a rich combination of sincerity and manipulation that constantly serves as a driving force for so much of the movie’s conflict, and when combined with the kind of nuance and lived-in believability of Moore’s portrayal as this woman who carries the weight of the town and media’s respective speculation, conjures two immovable objects that continuously clash in the most intimidating game of mental warfare. However, while the ladies provide the sizzle for the steak, it’s ultimately Charles Melton who might downright steal the show, imbedding such a child-like psychology to his portrayal that doesn’t require innocence or naivity to convey the age at which time stopped when his life changed forever. This provides bountiful clarity in Melton’s occasionally strange decisions as a man who was forced to grow up before he was ready to, but beyond that registers humanity in the balance of a man whose love is no longer there, cementing an eye-opening portrayal for Melton that will undoubtedly take his career to the next level. Lastly, most of the technical componenets are up to task, but none as refined as the swelling score from Marcelo Zarvos, whose dramatic tones serve as the conscience of a film that doesn’t always remain true to its own intentions. From the word go, Zarvos emphasizes the kind of experience that audience’s are in for, with piano-driven compositions and intentionally boisterous volume edits that make the opening of a fridge feel like the end of the world, which plays brilliantly to the kind of world that Haynes attempts to establish here.


While the promise is there for “May December” to lead to a scintillating character study, full of impactful tension and high stakes pay-offs, the end result is a drama-less melodrama that feels undercooked in nearly all of the film’s defining moments, leading to a tough watch for all of the wrong reasons. For starters, the female characters feel very one-dimensional and shallow, leaving me very little to properly invest in or feel compelled to even care about their well-being. Earlier, I mentioned that Melton’s role might’ve been the show stealer for me, and that’s mostly because he was a breath of fresh air compared to Moore and Portman’s characters, who say these ignorant things and convey these selfish actions so matter-of-factly that eviscerate any semblance of humanity between them, and if the film embraced more of its melodramatic framing device, then their snobbery could feel right at home with a movie that completely loses itself to the wildness, but this movie has so little of that. This leads to my second issue, in which the comedy factors feel so ineffective and barely noticeable, if not for the aforementioned seedy score from Zarvos pushing the idea of matters being played for gags. I’m not asking for gut-busting humor, but the script could’ve definitely embraced the cheese factor in tone a lot more noticeably than it did, as failing to do so robbed this film and Haynes direction of the matters needed to help it stand out. Finally, the consistency of the engagement was marred by so much boredom that I found myself fighting to even hang on to the 111 minute finish line. It’s not that the movie is too long, as I feel the story and many corresponding insights are much deserving of a nearly two hour run time, but rather that the film never capitalizes on what little dramatic flare that it manufactures for itself, leading to a third act climax that just kind of comes and goes with no confrontation between its female leads or its married couple. The movie just kind of ends on such a wimper, and if not for the magnitude of the meaningful performances, would’ve scored a lot less on my scale.

“May December” is a refreshingly original shape-shifting attempt from Todd Haynes, which feels so creatively and tonally diverse from anything that he previously has attempted. Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan with the depth of the exploration, and soon a trio of award-worthy performances are wasted on a continuously frustrating and stagnant experience that never matches impact with instigation, resulting in an acidic indulgence that eventually just fizzles out.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

3 thoughts on “May December

  1. I also dug the melodrama! Not usually a fan of that but the commitment to it was really bold.

    I thought melton was amazing.

  2. what an interesting subject, having a complete stranger making a movie based on your life. How does that even come about? Did the couple talk about it, or sell the rights to their story? did the actress contact them and try to get inside her head? I have to imagine that they would be trying to get past the scandal and not reopen the wounds, but some cling onto their notoriety as it is their only claim to fame. The actors are top notch, and it sounds like Melton was the best of the bunch this time around. This one sounds a little Hallmark-y for me, but maybe on a rainy day it would be something to check out. Excellent review!

  3. I was on the fence about this one since the story sounded interesting but the trailer didn’t hook me. And while it sounds decent enough, even the convience of this being on Netflix isn’t enough for me to try this. The performances do sound great since I love all three of the main actors and the pulpy campiness you mentioned is a little intriguing, but the fact it basically becomes a melodrama completely disinterests me. Excellent work all the same!

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