There is a Wide Difference in "May December"

May December

Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore
Studio: Netflix

Genre(s): Drama
Rated: R (For some sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language)

In a world where strange, unusual, and outright immoral relationships are called out on Twitter (still not comfortable calling it X) on a daily basis, I'm happy that a filmmaker like Todd Haynes is around to still give a human face to these relationships in the movies. This isn't unusual territory for him; his 2022 film "Far From Heaven" dealt with interracial relationships and a woman's husband coming out as gay in the fifties. A later film of his - "Carol" - would deal with similar themes as a middle-aged married woman leaves her husband and child to enter into a relationship with a much younger woman.

Haynes was not only putting a face on (at the time) relationships that were considered taboo by many in America, he was also showing that even if someone's happiness was at stake, it didn't mean their actions were necessarily altruistic or noble. With "May December" he tackles one of his heaviest subjects to date, and one that I feel many audience members will avoid because being disgusted is a perfectly natural response: a grown woman having an affair with a teenage boy.

Chances are some of you reading that sentence have already decided that this movie is not for you. No judgment here; I understand. Considering that grooming and power imbalances have (rightfully) come under renewed scrutiny by the public, watching a movie where we are forced to look at such a relationship and ask uncomfortable questions may be a bridge too far for some. After all, the couple in question is Gracie and Joe (Julianne Moore and Charles Melton). Gracie was a happily married woman with a son before she met Joe, a kid who was looking for a part-time job in a pet store.

While he did get the job he also developed a sexual relationship with Gracie that resulted in her getting pregnant and going to jail. Rather than move on though, once Gracie is released from jail she and Joe resume their relationship, get married, and have another kid. The community around them doesn't seem to mind; a few will even buy muffins from them that they have no intention of eating as a way of supporting them financially. The way the community has accepted this surreal situation is the first thing to catch the viewer off guard, as we see a community as being protective of "one of their own" rather than asking if this is truly a healthy relationship.

Since the town seems to have completely accepted this bonkers scenario, it's good that a woman named Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) enters the scene early on as someone we can join on this strange journey. Elizabeth is an actress who will be playing Gracie in a film version of her life. She is here to study how they live, interact, and compose themselves, so that she may best play the part in the movie. The more she involves herself in their lives though, the more it seems like she's trying to live vicariously through them rather than just do pure "research."

The more time we spend with Elizabeth, the more we realize that while it is easy to publicly condemn others for being involved in inappropriate relationships, we have the potential to find ourselves in the same situation. It may be the hardest truth to accept, but watching this movie we realize that the situation is far more complicated than we want to make it out to be. We are all capable of making human mistakes, we all have dark fantasies, and some of these sick relationships may turn out to be quite normal in our minds if we live them out long enough.

"May December" isn't justifying anything, nor is Todd Haynes telling you there is an easy way to view any of this. The reality put in front of us is that these situations are complicated, and go beyond people merely being 'good' or 'evil.' The reality is that we are all more alike than we are different, and the things that scare us the most are usually the things we struggle with personally. "May December" is a fascinating character study that not only allows us the chance to spend time in someone else's shoes but also gives us the rare opportunity to look inside ourselves and question if we've been approaching things wrong the whole time. Either as a movie or a therapy session, Todd Haynes has made one of the best films of the year, a film that is sure to cause as much debate as it will soul-searching.