Film Analysis: ‘May December’ – A Tapestry of Emotional Depth and Cinematic Brilliance

by Gabriel Martinez
May December Review

“May December” stands out as a daringly self-conscious, humorously sharp, and emotionally intricate drama, challenging conventional genre definitions.

Director Todd Haynes, collaborating with scriptwriter Samy Burch, ingeniously blends over-the-top melodramatic elements with the profound emotional insight reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s works, creating a uniquely captivating film that keeps the audience in a state of uncertainty.

The plot centers around actress Elizabeth Barry, portrayed by Natalie Portman, immersing herself in the life of her upcoming film’s subject, Gracie Atherton-Yoo (played by Julianne Moore). The story recounts Gracie’s controversial past, involving her imprisonment at 36 for initiating a relationship with a 12-year-old boy. Fast forward twenty years, she and the boy, Joe (Charles Melton), are now married with three children, navigating their unconventional life.

The film offers brief insights into previous sensationalist adaptations of their story. In their initial interaction, Gracie desires an authentic portrayal from Elizabeth, who in turn seeks to truly understand and represent Gracie’s experiences. Both Moore and Portman deliver these interactions with a blend of polite cordiality and underlying tension, raising questions about trust and perception within the narrative.

Haynes, already acclaimed for his mastery in melodramatic storytelling as seen in “Carol” and “Far From Heaven,” here nods to the sensationalism of tabloid stories, enriching it with a dramatic soundtrack featuring Michel Legrand’s compositions. This is used to great effect, juxtaposing serious and humorous moments, such as a scene where Gracie humorously remarks on a mundane household concern against a dramatically intense musical backdrop.

Portman’s Elizabeth is portrayed as a fiercely determined character, almost resembling an investigative journalist, seeking deeper truths about Gracie’s life. Her portrayal skillfully captures the manipulative aspects of her celebrity status, creating a captivating and unsettling representation of fame and the actor’s craft. This culminates in a scene where the distinction between storytelling and real life is poignantly highlighted.

The film’s brilliance also lies in the dynamic between Moore and Portman, where their on-screen chemistry manifests in subtly aggressive and power-laden exchanges. The true revelation, however, is Charles Melton’s portrayal of Joe. His nuanced performance captures the complex emotional journey of his character, delivering a heart-wrenching depiction without resorting to melodramatic clichés.

Joe, as played by Melton, is portrayed as a subdued figure, navigating his complex relationship with Gracie and his own identity as a father and husband. His portrayal adds a vital layer of depth to the film, shifting it from merely a sensational tale to a profound exploration of character and consequence.

“May December,” released by Netflix for theatrical viewing and streaming, offers a rich narrative tapestry that transcends mere scandal and entertainment, imbuing the film with a soulful depth. Rated R for its mature content and running for 117 minutes, it earns a distinguished three and a half stars out of four.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about May December Review

What is the genre of “May December”?

“May December” is an emotionally intricate drama that blends elements of melodrama and psychological depth, defying simple categorization.

Who directed “May December” and who wrote the script?

The film was directed by Todd Haynes and the script was written by newcomer Samy Burch.

Who are the main actors in “May December”?

The main actors in “May December” are Natalie Portman, playing the role of Elizabeth Barry, and Julianne Moore, portraying Gracie Atherton-Yoo. Charles Melton also plays a significant role as Joe.

What is the plot of “May December”?

The plot revolves around actress Elizabeth Barry (Portman) who prepares to portray Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Moore), a woman who had a controversial relationship and later married a much younger man, with whom she now has three children.

How does “May December” approach its subject matter?

“May December” approaches its subject matter with a mix of self-aware humor and emotional complexity, incorporating melodramatic elements and psychological insight.

What is the critical reception of “May December”?

“May December” has been critically acclaimed for its masterful acting, emotional depth, and unique blend of different cinematic styles.

What is the film rating and runtime of “May December”?

“May December” is rated R for mature content, and has a runtime of 117 minutes.

How is Charles Melton’s performance in the film?

Charles Melton delivers a nuanced and heart-wrenching performance as Joe, portraying the complex emotional landscape of his character effectively.

More about May December Review

  • Todd Haynes’ Filmography
  • Natalie Portman’s Acting Career
  • Julianne Moore’s Notable Roles
  • Analysis of Melodrama in Cinema
  • Psychological Depth in Films
  • The Evolution of Scriptwriting
  • Movie Ratings and Their Impact
  • Understanding Film Genres

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FilmBuff88 December 2, 2023 - 7:20 pm

great review! though, i think it’s important to mention how the film handles the sensitive subject matter, It’s a delicate topic and needs care.

Jenny78 December 2, 2023 - 8:22 pm

the part about Charles Melton’s performance sounds amazing, he’s really grown as an actor, Can’t wait to see him in this role.

CinemaLover101 December 2, 2023 - 10:02 pm

honestly, wasn’t sure about this film at first but this review makes it sound intriguing, gonna check it out for sure.

SarahCritiques December 3, 2023 - 5:52 am

The review’s good but could use more on the cinematography, how’s the visual style of the movie? That’s always key in Haynes’ work.

ToddH_Fan December 3, 2023 - 6:49 am

As a big fan of Todd Haynes, I’m excited to see his new direction in this film, The review captures his style perfectly.

Mike_J December 3, 2023 - 7:12 pm

i really liked how the review captured the essence of the movie, Great to see Portman and Moore together, they’re such powerhouses!


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