To prepare for a role inspired by a true story, an actress meets the woman she will play on screen. A middle-aged woman whose scandalous affair with a 13-year-old boy ignited the tabloid press 20 years earlier.
From the credits, to the sound of the beautiful music of Michel Legrand (that of the film The Go Between), Todd Haynes establishes the hushed atmosphere of his film. We see Gracie (Julianne Moore), shortly before the arrival of Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), who is preparing the traditional 4th of July BBQ. However, this stranger, a famous actress who interferes in Gracie’s family, will not take long to shake the facade of her artificial happiness.
From Safe to Carol to Far from Heaven, Todd Haynes’ cinema likes to debunk the myth of the American dream. Using the codes… of American culture and Hollywood films. His work reminds us that denial and obsession with images are terrible social poisons. He’s one of the most fascinating filmmakers south of the 49th parallel. And May December, without being his best film, confirms it.
People who are insecure are dangerous, Gracie tells Elizabeth when the latter asks her about her unusual past. Because she is having an affair with Joe (Charles Melton) who is a quarter of a century apart from her. Melton also plays the lover and father of three children as a teenager who grew up too quickly. Accused of raping a minor in 1993, Gracie was convicted and served time in prison, before marrying Joe when she came of age; then started a second family.
The storyline is inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau affair that made headlines in the 1990s. A school teacher in Washington state, Letourneau had a relationship with her 6th grade student. She was tried and served time in prison too, before marrying her young lover.
Like the Chouchou series, director Todd Haynes looks into this taboo subject by showing the collateral damage of this love. However, he is more interested in the relationship between fiction and reality than in news items. Very anchored in method acting, Elizabeth will push her research to resemble her character. She says the darker, more complex roles, from Medea to Hedda Gabler, are the most interesting to play. Without realizing that his own quest for dramatic truth causes more damage than reality.
Critical of the media and moral authority, May December enjoys confusing the waters without judging its characters. Gracie, Elizabeth and Joe are all trapped in their illusions. In the tradition of Bergman and Losey, Todd Haynes delivers a dark and hushed film, psychologically disturbing, and carried by an extraordinary duo of actresses.