FILM REVIEW — Netflix scores again with “May December”

Published 12:02 am Friday, December 1, 2023

“May December”

Netflix

Directed by Todd Haynes

Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton and Corey Michael Smith

Rated R

3 ½ Stars

For the fifth week in a row, Netflix has the best movie of the week in the form of “May December.”

This is a film that is loosely based on the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal that gripped the nation in the late 90s.

For those too young to remember, Letourneau was a mid-thirties teacher who had an affair with one of her 13-year-old students. This movie begins with that basic premise, but it fictionalizes the story and adds the twist that the sordid affair is about to be turned into a Hollywood movie.

Natalie Portman plays the actress who will star in the movie, and she’s come to spend time with the woman at the center of the scandal (Julianne Moore) and the man (Charles Melton) who married her, even though she abused him when he was a teenager.

The story ends up being a battle of nerves between the two women, as the actress pries, hoping to uncover hidden truths that will help her performance, and the other tries to color the affair, hoping this movie about her past will be a bit less damming.

It turns into one of those relationships where the women are polite on the surface, but you can feel the gears turning in their heads as they scheme to find some advantage.

It’s no surprise Portman and Moore are the central draw in this movie, but Melton also deserves a shout out playing the abused boy who is now grown and trying to act like a well-adjusted man, but he obviously still carries the scars of his abuse.

He’s not alone in his trauma, as one of Gracie’s sons (Corey Michael Smith) also makes quite an impact as the young man who feels his life has been ruined because his mom is a pedophile.

But it’s Portman and Moore who are the stars of the show here, and they both turn in superbly nuanced performances.

Moore is fascinating playing the woman who claims that she’s put her sex crimes behind her, but she would love to tweak the story into something less scandalous. She’s calculating, and if that’s not damning enough, her relationship with her husband shows she still carries some of the same personality traits that got her into trouble in the first place,

And lest you think that’s she’s the only monster in this story, Portman gives us a shocking portrayal of an overly ambitious actress willing to do whatever it takes in order to succeed. Her character is every bit as predatory as the pedophile she will be portraying in the movie.

Credit director Todd Haynes for delivering another film that feels like a soapy melodrama on the surface, but offer deep psychological waters for those willing to wade in. He has always been good at bringing fascinating female characters to life in his movies, and “May December” arrives with two of his most memorable characters yet.

Given the subject matter, “May December” won’t appeal to all audiences, but this is a complicated movie that will draw you in by the performances and leave you dwelling on what drives these characters long after the movie fades to black. Fans of grown-up, thought-provoking cinema definitely need to spend some time with “May December,” yet another great movie available on Netflix.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at sean@seanthemovieguy.com.