Movie review
An opinion piece that you describe, praises or criticizes, on the whole or partly, to cultural or entertainment work. It must be written by an expert on the matter

‘May December’: I’m not even curious

In the movie, Todd Haynes reconstructs the story of a teacher who got involved with a 12-year-old pupil and later started a family with him. But neither Julianne Moore nor Natalie Portman are able to alleviate the tedium

Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman
Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, in 'May December.'
Carlos Boyero

From the get-go, May December had several things going for it. Like seeing Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, actresses as good as she is disturbing, acting together for the first time. Portman had an impact on me in Leon, the Professional and I fell in love with her in Beautiful Girls. Intelligent and beautiful, her career has gone from strength to strength. As far as I’m concerned, she is a must-see, regardless of the quality of the film she’s in. She is someone I always enjoy watching.

On the other hand, I am not a fan of the renowned director Todd Haynes. There’s a tiresome, experimental edge to almost all of his films, although I did really like Carol, the exquisite adaptation he did of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, getting memorable performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Directing actresses is what this sophisticated and intense cineast does best.

But in May December, I’m not convinced by his talent in that direction. I even have trouble recognizing Natalie Portman physically. I find her inexpressive. There is something strange and superficial about this normally exciting actress. Or is it that I simply find her character as tedious as the film? In May December, she plays an actress who spends a few days with the woman she is about to play in a film in order to get to know her. Played by Julianne Moore, this woman has been involved in a scandal which should fascinate: as a 36-year-old teacher, she got involved with a 12-year-old pupil while being married and having her own children. She was subsequently imprisoned but when she got out of jail she got back together with the boy, had children and were an apparently solid, happy couple. However, during her stay with them, Portman will discover that all is not what it seems. Things will also happen to Portman during her time with Moore and her family that were not foreseen in her script.

Julianne Moore, Charles Melton
Julianne Moore and Charles Melton, in 'May December.'

The seedy tale could be gripping, but Todd Haynes’ approach to telling it makes it petty, and pointlessly pretentious. It’s very oddly shot; at one point, the characters address the viewer in close-up with some absurd peroration — and the camera and the narrative do some willfully weird things. Sometimes I can’t understand what they’re trying to tell each other, and I’m not interested in what seems to be obvious. They are supposed to reveal various enigmas, but the psychological aspect is as abusive as it is tortuous. I am absolutely disinterested in what I see and hear. There is a great desire for visual style on the part of the director, to flee from anything natural, to convolute situations to introduce doubt. And his pretensions turn out to be empty. And boring. There are many things I don’t understand. And those that are clear are wearisome.

I am also less than fascinated by the often exceptional Julianne Moore. If I told you before that I found it hard to recognize Natalie Portman, I can’t get used to seeing the red-headed Moore dyed blonde. I imagine she is trying to look as physically similar as possible to the real character. And I’m told that the script of this film is up for an Oscar. I understand almost nothing in it. I don’t know if the problem is mine, or if it’s the script, or how the director has interpreted it. Almost everything in this film seems to me affected and hollow.

'May December

Director: Todd Haynes.

Cast: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Andrea Frankle. 

Genre: Drama. USA, 2023.

Duration: 117 minutes.


Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS