“May December”


Rotten Tomatoes (2.5/5), Metacritic (5/10), Letterboxd (2.5/5), Imdb.com (5/10), TMDB.com (2.5/5)

In moviemaking, there’s subtlety, and then there’s subtlety carried too far. In the case of director Todd Haynes’s latest, the filmmaker unfortunately indulges himself far too much in the latter. This story of an actress (Natalie Portman) who visits a middle-aged sex offender (Julianne Moore) to prepare for a role she’s about to play in a movie about her subject’s life never seems to find a footing to stick with and explore. The narrative examines many different aspects of the back story behind the lives of the characters to be portrayed in this pending production without ever really resolving any of them by the time the credits roll. This includes not only the protagonist’s reasons for pursuing her once-underage husband (Charles Melton) – actions that got her jailed and made her fodder for countless tawdry tabloid cover stories – but also the nature of the actress’s real motivations in conducting such an excessively intense in-depth study of her character. In the process, virtually everyone comes across as somewhat unsavory, and, considering that the truth is never clearly revealed about any of them, it begs the question, why should we care about any of this? The film depicts all of this so subtly that it goes beyond nuance, veering into the realm of enigmatic, thereby further reinforcing the notion of why any of us should care. Ironically, these underplayed elements are in stark contrast to some rather obvious (and terribly trite) symbolism, particularly in images related to themes of transition and transformation. The picture’s inconsistent changes in tone don’t help, either, vacillating between allegedly serious drama and a seemingly underdeveloped desire to break out as an exercise in full-fledged camp (which, by the way, probably would have made this a much better offering). The script’s meandering flow and glacial pacing also don’t help, leaving viewers scratching their heads more often than not as to where this story is headed. In the end, all of the foregoing is ultimately quite unfortunate, because there’s definite potential in this project, but it’s never adequately defined and fleshed out. Leads Moore and (especially) Portman turn in admirable efforts to make this material fly, but they simply don’t have enough to work with to make that happen. While there appear to be allusions to themes like the difficulty involved in dealing with long-buried feelings and the fact that we may never be able to adequately grasp the truth behind them (either as outsiders looking in or as active participants in the midst of such dealings), the cryptic handling of those ideas undermines whatever meaningful messages or cinematic value they might have, making all of this seem like just such a big waste of time. Director Haynes has an impressive filmography behind him with such releases as “Poison” (1991), “Far From Heaven” (2002) and “Dark Waters” (2019), but, regrettably, “May December” certainly can’t be counted as part of that list.