What is it about ? To prepare for her new role, a famous actress comes to meet the woman she will play on screen, whose love life ignited the tabloid press and excited the country 20 years earlier.
Freely adapted from a dark news item
The couple formed by Julianne Moore and Charles Melton in May December is inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau affair, which occurred in 1997 in the United States. The latter was an American teacher who, when she was 34 years old, became pregnant by one of her twelve-year-old students, Vili Fualaau. She was sentenced to six months in prison (three of which were suspended) and three years of treatment for sexual offenses.
She then violated her probation and became pregnant again by Fualaau, landing her in prison for seven and a half years in 1998. After serving her sentence, she married Fualaau in 2005 and raised their two children with him, born while he was incarcerated. . The couple eventually divorced in 2019, and Letourneau died the following year from cancer.
The film is not a faithful reconstruction of the affair. The characters do not have the same names as the original protagonists, and Todd Haynes imagines the irruption of an actress into the couple's life. Nevertheless, the inspiration is obvious and the main person concerned, Vili Fualaau, now 40 years old, shared his dissatisfaction at not having been consulted by the production.
“I am still alive and in good health. If [la production] had contacted me, we could have worked together on a masterpiece. Instead, they chose to reproduce my original story.”he told the Hollywood Reporter. “I am offended by the whole project and the lack of respect towards me, who lived a real story and who still lives it. […] my story is nowhere near as simple as this movie [dépeint]”.
Under the leadership of Natalie Portman
It was Natalie Portman who sent Todd Haynes the script by Samy Burch. The director was immediately seduced by “the way he approaches potentially explosive subjects with a kind of observant patience that allows the protagonists of this story to be approached with unusual subtlety. His writing was imbued with a moral and narrative ambiguity that was exciting for the viewer.”
Todd Haynes added: “At the beginning of the film, the viewer trusts Elizabeth (played by Natalie Portman). It is through her that we get to know Gracie (played by Julianne Moore) and her story. Then, we discover how Elizabeth uses everyone she meets, and our confidence in her is shaken. That's what appealed to me about this project: confronting two actresses that I adore, and putting the viewer in an unstable position, in which he must constantly re-evaluate what he thinks of the characters…”
The meaning of the title
“May-December” is an expression which designates in English a relationship where the two partners have a large age difference. Asked about the title of his film during a press conference at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where the film was selected, Todd Haynes joked: “In France, we call it “a Macron””.
At the cinema: May December… Why should you see this film with Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore?
May December awakened immediate cinematic associations in Todd Haynes, such as Persona where an actress and her nurse develop a troubled relationship, but also two other Ingmar Bergman films, Autumn Sonata and The Communicants, where the characters address each other directly to the camera in key moments.
Films centered on relationships with a significant age difference also nourished him, such as The Graduate, Twilight Boulevard, A Sunday Like Any Other, Manhattan and Lolita. Manhattan and The Graduate are examples for him “where stylistic minimalism is almost indistinguishable from the success of the film”.
A familiar melody
The film's soundtrack takes as its theme the score that Michel Legrand composed for Joseph Losey's Le Messager in 1971. Music well known to viewers since it also serves as the theme song for the show Bring in the Accused! “This score was initially a working tool but it was ultimately played throughout the filming and until the end of editing. The composer Marcelo Zarvos used it by rearranging it”explique Todd Haynes.