A young actress is to star in a biopic as a woman whose claim to fame is sexual deviance. That’s the premise of Todd Haynes’ latest film, “May December,”opening the esteemed New York Film Festival this week.
Gracie (Julianne Moore), a baker and housewife in Savannah, now married to her much younger lover with whom she has college aged twins, is so reviled she receives a box of shit at the start and spends much of the movie managing the pain of being ostracized. When Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) arrives to take notes for her role, the two women dance a pas de deux of cautious friendliness, with Gracie demonstrating her cake-making skills, her beauty tips, her hold over her family. Edgy music keeps the viewer alert: who is playing whom?
Or, how much does an actor really need to research to play a role? Joe, now 36 wasn’t yet a teen when he and Gracie first had sex. Deep into a guilt driven relationship, he becomes the movie’s center.
Introducing the film at Alice Tully Hall, director Todd Haynes signaled as much in stressing Charles Melton’s outstanding performance. With a nod toward his composer, Marcelo Zarvos, he spoke about the music leading events, a technique taken from a classic movie he saw on TMC, “The Go-Between.” In the end, though, we don’t much like Gracie either, while the film offers an exceptional view of shifting perspectives on an “icky” subject.
“May December” features excellent performances by Moore and Portman– in a festival that showcases the actresses sure to garner awards this year: Emma Stone in “Poor Things,” for example, and a wonderful Sandra Huller, star of both “The Zone of Interest” and “Anatomy of a Fall.” In roles richly drawn, these are the women to watch.