May December (2023) Movie: A Difficult Human Melodrama

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May December is a difficult human melodrama told sensitively. Its layered storyline narrates complex relationship tales and tries to unravel the moral grey areas of the people.

A word of caution:- The story of this movie is based on the sexual assaualt case in the USA. We have shared the note about its real life case in the spoilers alert shared below.

It is worth noting that ‘May December’ is a term for a relationship with a wide age gap between partners, In this film, these two partners are the wife and husband duo of — Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore) and Joe Yoo (Charles Melton). The movie picks up their story, twenty years after their notorious tabloid romance gripped the nation. A married couple buckles under pressure when an actress arrives to do research for a film about their past.

Synopsis (official) of the May December (2023) Movie

Twenty years after their notorious tabloid romance gripped the nation, Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore) and her husband Joe Yoo (Charles Melton) brace themselves for their twins to graduate from high school. Joe is twenty-three years her junior. So, when Hollywood actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) comes to spend time with the family to better understand Gracie, who she will be playing in a film, family dynamics unravel under the pressure of the outside gaze.

Having never processed what happened in his youth, Joe starts to confront the reality of life as an empty-nester at thirty-six. As Elizabeth and Gracie study each other, the similarities and differences between the two women begin to ebb and flow.

Set in picturesque and comfortable Camden, Maine, May December explores truth, storytelling, and the difficulties (or impossibility) of fully understanding another person.

Bonus info.:- This film was premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival in May 2023. Later, the Netflix acquired U.S. distribution rights. Now, Netflix has released it in December, 2023.

Spoiler Free Review of the May December (2023) Movie

Despite its controversial subject matter, we had two good reasons to watch this movie.

First was the fact that it boasted two well-known Hollywood actresses Julianne Moore (2015 Oscar award winner for the Still Alice film) and Natalie Portman (2011 Oscar award winner for the Black Swan film). They come together in this contentious melodrama to explore the complexities of the relationship between the sexes.

Second was its director Todd Haynes, who has directed quite a few good human dramas, viz., Carol, I’m Not There, and Far from Heaven. Here he delves into another disquieting subject about the bending of the well-established principles of our society by people. And how this kind of moral ambiguity in the relationship between Gracie and Joe affects the lives of dear and near ones in their lives. Overall, he has done well to get top-class acting.

Also, its screenplay by Samy Burch is really good. She has etched out these key characters in this movie in a delicate and perceptive manner.

Julianne Moore plays the naive and fragile character

We may never really know and understand the reasons, why Gracie Atherton-Yoo fell deeply in love with a teen-age boy Joe. A boy, who was as old as one of her sons.

But, one could feel the heavy emotional baggage that she carries around in her life. It was perhaps because of her taboo love affair, subsequent marriage followed by kids. Still, she bravely carries on with her life. She dedicated her life to her young husband and kids. One could feel a sense of discomfort and a tiny bit guilt in her character.

The complexity of the character of Gracie as written, and I think as it unfolded, particularly in conversations with Julianne, represents a myriad of contradictions and fascinating elements of willfulness, and then a resolute, almost stubborn lack of self-reflection, a determination to stick to the choices that she’s made.

Todd Haynes | Netflix

Even the passage of two decades has failed to heal her mental and emotional wounds. All of her well-hidden state of mind comes to the fore, after the arrival of the actress Elizabeth.

Julianne Moore plays the naive and fragile character of Gracie Atherton-Yoo with rare conviction. We enjoyed her acting in this film.

Natalie Portman plays the character of an actress who gets too involved

Elizabeth Berry is a talented and intelligent actress. In the initial part of the film, she appears curious, inquisitive, interested and nonjudgmental, while she seeks to understand Gracie. But, she could not crack the code, as she gets too involved personally in Gracie and Joe’s family life. Even her human frailties come to light as the story progresses.

Her arrival and then her interactions with Gracie’s family members freshen and reopen the old wounds. It forces some of them to question their life choices.

Both women are circling each other and trying to get a handle on each other. I think a lot of it is about a process of trust, which is Elizabeth’s goal to make Gracie feel toward her… It’s Elizabeth’s project to try to navigate around these resistances piece by piece…

Todd Haynes | Netflix

In the closing scene of the movie, the actress Elizabeth Berry stares into a blank, while shooting for the movie based on the life of Gracie Atherton-Yoo. She seemed so unsure and doubtful. Even after spending so much time with Gracie Atherton-Yoo, Joe Yoo and their family, she could not fully comprehend the depth of Gracie’s character and her actions.

Natalie Portman plays the character of an actress Elizabeth who gets too involved with Gracie’s family. Her entanglements, actions and discussions throw a spanner in the work.

Charles Melton plays the unintended victim in the sordid episodes

Joe is Gracie’s young and innocent husband. They have three kids together, who have reached the age of young adults. Two of these youngsters are heading for college, while one is already in college. So these kids understand the complex relationship dynamics in their family. In addition, they also realize that society views their non-traditional family with a whole lot of prejudice and judgment.

Meanwhile, at the relatively young age of 36 years, Joe is preparing to become an empty nester. He was content with his family life. In fact, he has never really thought deeply about his life. But the arrival of the actress Elizabeth changed everything. Then onwards, he could feel a few doubts creeping in and upheaval started to take place in his own life.

You kind of see this child rising to the surface where there really wasn’t anything resolved… Being a great father, being a loving husband, being a provider — all these things come before he does, and he’s never really had the chance to really look at himself.

Charles Melton | Netflix

This is a twisted mature tale about love, lust, relationships, and the general complexities of life in a society. Joe Yoo is caught between these two women. Can he break free? Will he?

In a way, it is a coming-of-age story of a young man in his mid-thirties. As he starts to think about himself, his present status and his future life.

Charles Melton has impressed us with his amazing acting performance. He plays a complex character who has kept all his emotions bottled up for almost two decades. Maybe because he did not wish to upset the applecart in his life. His subtle and delicate portrayal of an attractive man-child is praiseworthy. He has outshone the two accomplished actresses in it.

The conclusion

Besides the fine acting performances, its wonderful music and cinematography of the beautiful locales have added depth to this discomfit film. It is a dark tale of our times.

Rating of 2023 film drama about the complex human relationship

FM’s rating3.75/5
FM’s short commentsTo be honest, we came to watch two wonderful actresses Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore. But Charles Melton’s acting stole our hearts. This is a slow-burning disturbing tale about the (socially) taboo relationship and the moral dilemma that we humans face in such cases.
FM Rating of the May December (2023) movie

Spoilers Alert – 2023 film drama about the complex human relationship

Inspired by a real-life story which happened in the 1990s

This movie is loosely inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau tabloid scandal of the late-1990s in the USA.

What was the 1990s scandal about?

In the mid-1990s, thirty-four-year-old Mary Katherine “Mary Kay” Fualaau was an elementary school teacher who raped a twelve-year-old student, Vili Fualaau. Then later on, in 1997, she pleaded guilty to two counts of felony second-degree rape of a child. As a result, she was incarcerated for several years for her rape of Fualaau.

Their twisted love story continued…

Fualaau and Letourneau got married in the subsequent years and then had two daughters together. However, their marriage lasted from 2005 until they separated in 2019. Soon after, she died of cancer. Fualaau claimed in many of her press interviews throughout their marriage that their relationship was always consensual.

However, at a much later date, an article in People magazine disclosed that Vili Fualaau had come to understand the relationship as abusive and unhealthy from the start. He came to this realization only after their separation. Perhaps time and his maturity led him to the said conclusion.

Poster of 2023 film drama about the complex human relationship

May December (2023) Movie Poster
May December (2023) Movie Poster

Key Details of 2023 film drama about the complex human relationship

GenreDrama, Romance
Original languageEnglish (USA)
Age-restrictionsA (18+)
Released November-December, 2023
Duration1 hour 57 minutes
WriterSamy Burch & Alex Mechanik
DirectorTodd Haynes
CastNatalie Portman (Elizabeth Berry), Julianne Moore (Gracie Atherton-Yoo), Charles Melton (Joe Yoo), Chris Tenzis (Aaron), Elizabeth Yu (Mary Atherton-Yoo), Gabriel Chung (Charlie Atherton-Yoo), D.W. Moffett (Tom Atherton), etc.
About May December (2023) movie

Trailer of 2023 film drama about the complex human relationship

Trailer – May December (2023) movie – Transmission | YouTube.

Awards won by this 2023 film drama about the complex human relationship

Gotham Awards2023 Winner Gotham Independent Film Award Outstanding Supporting Performance – Charles Melton
New York Film Critics Circle Awards2023 Winner NYFCC Award Best Supporting Actor – Charles Melton
Santa Barbara International Film Festival2024 Winner Virtuoso Award Virtuoso Award – Charles Melton
Mill Valley Film Festival2023 Winner Mill Valley Film Festival Award Lifetime Achievement – Collaboration Todd Haynes & Christine Vachon
Montclair Film Festival (MFF)2023 Winner Director Award – Todd Haynes
Middleburg Film Festival2023 Winner Visionary Director Award – Todd Haynes
Critics Choice Awards Celebration of Cinema & Television2023 Winner Breakthrough Performance Award – Charles Melton
Awards – May December (2023) movie

In case you like movies about complex human relationships, then check out the Three Of Us (2023) Movie as well as the Past Lives (2023) Movie, too.

Featured Image and Poster of the May December (2023) movie | Credit:- Netflix.

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