May December Movie Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

On February 1, the drama “May, December” started showing in cinemas, the plot of which is inspired by the real story of the relationship between the American teacher Mary Kay Letourneau and her student Willy Fualaau. Todd Haynes’ film received four Golden Globe nominations, one Oscar nomination (for best original screenplay) and was included in the top ten films of 2023 according to the American Film Institute. In this review, we tell you how the star duo Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore interact in the frame and why exactly this story may be of interest to the viewer.


an interesting dramatic story, rich in expressive cinematic means; cool acting performances from the main stars of the film; their excellent on-screen chemistry, particularly between Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman; Portman’s beautiful monologue scene in front of the mirror; space for spectator interpretations; the case when the absence of a clear ending is not perceived negatively


sometimes the sheer drag of the narrative gets a little tiring; minor characters are almost invisible; On an emotional level the story doesn’t work well

“May, December” / May December

Genre Drama
Director Todd Haynes
Starring: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Corey Michael Smith, Elizabeth Yu
Premiere cinemas
Year of release 2023
IMDb website

Actress Elizabeth Berry visits sunny Savannah. She came here to meet hospitable housewife Gracie Atherton-Yu, who bakes custom cakes. This way, Elizabeth will be able to better inhabit her role in the independent film, which aims to tell Gracie’s quirky love story.

But this is not an ordinary story, like one of those that is usually endowed with vanilla rom-coms with an obligatory happy ending. After all, 23 years ago, the woman’s chosen one was a 13-year-old teenager of Korean origin, Joe Yu, a classmate of her son from his first marriage. At the same time, the woman was sent to jail for sex with a minor, where she gave birth to a child from another child, and the event received wide resonance. The prisoner became the heroine of the covers of many publications, in particular such well-known ones as People.

After being released from prison, Gracie and Joe got married and now both pretend that their story is a victory over circumstances and the triumph of true love. But the more Elizabeth asks awkward questions of the seemingly happy couple, the clearer it becomes that not everything is perfect in their relationship. And while the inquisitive actress persistently picks at long-gnarled abscesses, somewhere in Savannah one 36-year-old teenager will finally realize that it’s time to grow up.

Where quite reasonably there was a maneuver for sensational, provocative material in the spirit of, say, Verhoeven, director Todd Haynes (Dark Waters, Carol, returning to Ukrainian theaters on February 15) predictably took a different path. His somewhat detached view of history leaves enough room for the viewer’s interpretations.

The authors of the film are completely indifferent to what exactly led to such a blatantly unhealthy union and who is to blame for the fact that it took place. It’s much more interesting to figure out, together with Portman’s heroine, what consequences this turned into and how it affected the lives of everyone involved.

For example, what does Gracie’s ex-husband think about this, whose age did not provide for criminal liability for a strange woman. Or, what is more eloquent and important, how does Joe live, who seems to be much more interested in smoking his first joint in his life in the company of his own son, not much younger than himself, than in spending time with his wife. She, like a mother, carefully keeps count of the bottles of beer her young husband drinks. “This is the second one,” she reminds sternly.

Questions also arise about Elizabeth, played by Portman, whose curiosity gradually turns into a real obsession. Her behavior is sometimes impossible to understand, because at a certain point it becomes difficult to believe that such a meticulous immersion in the life of the spouses is due to the sole desire to better feel the character.

An indicative episode is when Elizabeth visits a local pet store, where many years ago Gracie and Joe were caught having sex, and she tries to imagine and reproduce the scene of sexual intercourse. As a result, the actress will go even further. It’s a Daniel Day-Lewis approach, no less, and with such a revealing side of cinema and acting in particular, it’s hard to escape the idea that Elizabeth has her own ulterior motives.

All these bizarre intricacies of human relationships, the interaction of characters when half-hints appear or an uncomfortable situation arises, are frankly interesting.

Haynes’s narration is extremely slow, and lulling static shots are sometimes interrupted by sharp editing transitions, which makes you quite perky if you suddenly fall asleep.

At the same time, the picture is replete with expressive and fairly obvious images and metaphors: a symbolic three of mannequins with a man, or, rather, someone similar to a man in the center, a large number of mirror reflections, which primarily concerns female characters, the fateful release of a butterfly from a cocoon, presented too bluntly. And there was also the Old Testament serpent-tempter, which, however, does not work as an artistic image, but rather as a characteristic of the movie with Elizabeth; it will probably turn out badly, despite all her extreme efforts.

Not for the first time in her career, Natalie Portman gives a confident, cool performance, supported by an interesting insight about sex scenes in front of the camera and an absolutely phenomenal monologue – with close-ups, cool acting and interesting context. Julianne Moore subtly conveys the abnormality of her character with the nature of a huntress, causing an eerie feeling not only in those around her, but also in the viewer.

But it is Joe, played superbly by Charles Melton, who goes through the greatest character evolution. The realization that he was deprived of his youth, his best years, and since then remained in a cocoon (this is the butterfly metaphor mentioned above), evokes a sincere response from the audience.

“May, December” requires thoughtfulness, lacks dynamics and at some point becomes a plot of very melodramatic qualities, which surprisingly does not make it bad. The absurdity of the situation may cause a subtle smile for some. But in the end, this is a decidedly sad story about a toxic relationship, where the well-known phrase about “theft of youth” takes on a truly frightening directness.


“May, December” offers a sunny, quite May setting of Savannah, against which the December-like cold, detached narrative conveys the quirkiness of local relationships, and without direct authorial condemnation. And when there is room for your own interpretation, this is not at all a bad thing.

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