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Natalie Portman emulates Julianne Moore in Todd Haynes' delirious melodrama 'May December'

May December, L to R: Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo with Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry.  (Photo: Netflix)
May December, L to R: Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo with Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry. (Photo: Netflix)
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May December
4 out of 5 Stars
Todd Haynes
Writer: Samy Burch, Alex Machanik
Starring: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rated: R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: After their relationship ignited a tabloid saga two decades ago, Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton) now lead a seemingly perfect suburban life. Their domestic bliss is disrupted when Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a famous television actress, arrives in their tight-knit community to research her upcoming role as Gracie. As Elizabeth ingratiates herself into the everyday lives of Gracie and Joe, the uncomfortable facts of their scandal unfurl, causing long-dormant emotions to resurface. In May December, director Todd Haynes (Safe, Carol) explores one of the great talents of the human species: our colossal refusal to look at ourselves.

Review: I find that the best satire comes from a place of contradiction. For me, “Barbie” works because director/writer Greta Gerwig is torn between her childhood love for the dolls and her adult ethics that can’t look past the problematic messages that are a part of the toy’s legacy.

With “May December” director Todd Haynes has made a film that is the most pleasantly vicious take down of tabloid culture and the films that the headlines inevitably inspire. It is a film that suggests viewers and actors are drawn to salacious stories not by the sensationalism but by the complexity of the characters. It does so with a wink and a wry smile and a tête-à-tête between Natalie Portman’s Elizabeth and Julianne Moore’s Gracie that is utterly delicious.

Elizabeth feigns sincerity and concern as she studies for an upcoming role that will see the somewhat-famous actress tackling Gracie’s true story of an older woman who seduces and weds a teenage boy. Gracie will refuse to question her past and desperately try to convince herself that she’s not being exploited by Elizabeth and her filmmaking friends.

Almost lost in the action is Joe (Charles Melton), the young man who as a teenaged boy was forced into the spotlight by the scandalous nature of his relationship with Gracie. His naïve nature distracting from whatever it is that exists behind his smile.

My favorite moment sees Elizabeth offering an unfiltered opinion about filming sex scenes to a group of high school students. It might be the only moment in the entire narrative where Elizabeth is completely honest.

“May December” could have easily become a parody of itself, but Haynes and his cast walk that thin line that allows the audience to have a laugh and feel just enough guilt to learn something about our obsession for reality-based drama and the figurative trainwrecks that we can’t turn away from.

“May December” is now in theaters and on Netflix December 1, 2023.

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