May December

Inspired by a real-life tabloid scandal, Todd Haynes' delicious new melodrama sees Natalie Portman play an actor preparing to star in a true-crime drama by inserting herself in her subject's life

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 13 Nov 2023
  • May December
Film title: May December
Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Cory Michael Smith, Elizabeth Yu, Gabriel Chung, Piper Curda, D.W. Moffet, Lawrence Arancio
Release date: 17 Dec
Certificate: 15

Melodrama and a generous helping of dark comedy combine in this compelling character study from Todd Haynes, which manages to be hilarious and heartfelt all at once. Natalie Portman stars as Elizabeth, an actor researching her next juicy role: that of Gracie (Moore), a former school teacher who was caught having a sexual relationship with 13-year-old Joe 20 years ago when she was 36. Gracie subsequently served a prison sentence for statutory rape but is now married to Joe (played by Charles Melton). Haters still send them boxes of faeces in the post from time to time, but the couple seem happy. That is until Elizabeth comes to town to pick Gracie’s brains for the role, and ends up picking apart her life. 

Portman and Moore are electric together. A passive-aggressive battle of wills erupts between their characters as Elizabeth attempts to chip away at Gracie’s façade. Haynes captures this emotional carnage using the flat film grammar of daytime soaps, with dramatic zooms and a strident piano score often mistimed to throw us off-kilter. 

Elizabeth becomes more like Gracie with each passing scene, wearing similar clothes and makeup, and eventually aping her subtle lisp. Melton is great too as Joe, who cuts a poignant figure as a man who went from child to middle-aged overnight, and is only starting to come to terms with his relationship’s insidious beginnings. May December is a film designed to make you feel on edge, but with performances this good, you’ll also be on the edge of your seat.

Released 17 Nov by StudioCanal; certificate 15