“I want to find a character who is difficult, on the surface, to understand.”Elizabeth
With an actress visiting a once-infamous family to learn details that will help her portray the mother, there is an argument for going into May December blind to the story. I won’t spoil anything that is not apparent within the first 20 minutes of the film. Gracie and Jae Yoo’s infamy arises from the fact he was a child when their relationship began but they have stayed together and raised a family. By approaching their relationship from the back — as their children are about to leave for university — rather than from the start, the script has a broader canvas and an ability to wrong-foot the audience. Our perspective is largely Elizabeth’s as she investigates and gradually develops a fuller perspective by speaking to more family and locals, the score matching this mysterious tone with insistent strings and enquiring piano. The central performances from Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton are nuanced and emotionally compelling, particularly in the parallels drawn between the leading women — both are manipulative, Gracie in her desire to control the narrative and Elizabeth in her search for acting inspiration. There are missteps, like the late “revelation” of a lie that ought to have been clear, but overall Todd Haynes weaves an excellent tapestry of ambiguity that leaves the audience uncomfortable as we evaluate the relationship before us.