“May December”, a duo of actresses taking turns

Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore star in this Todd Haynes film, in which one plays the other in a stylish but superficial tale.

“I’m looking for a character that’s hard to get to grips with”, says the actress played by Natalie Portman in Todd Haynes’ film “May December” (out January 24), which premiered at the Deauville American Film Festival after being selected at the Cannes Film Festival. In “her desire to take risks and play with her image as an actress”, it was she who sent the script to the director (“Carol”, “Mildred Pierce”, “Dark Waters”…), “who loves making films about complicated women”, and asked another actress with whom he has worked extensively, Julianne Moore (“Far from Heaven”, “I’m Not There”…).

Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a young Hollywood star, is preparing for her next film role, that of Gracie (Julianne Moore), also a celebrity in her own right. Then married and a mother, scandalous Gracie had an affair with a thirteen-year-old boy at the age of 36, which landed her in prison, where she gave birth to their first child. Now married for over twenty years, Gracie and her Joe (played by Charles Melton) form a “cute” and atypical couple, the expression in the title “May December” evoking their age difference.

The complexity of human beings

Elizabeth arrives at their Georgia home in the middle of a barbecue. The actress dines with her family, has coffee with her ex-husband, questions neighbors and friends, observes each other, takes notes, sucks up living material for her film, tries to vamp Gracie, who has no shame, regret or guilt.

Embodying such a media personality can be “an Oscar role”, and in their preparation for this character, Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, in their duo of actresses taking turns, play opposite each other on camera in a beautiful sequence, imitating each other, like a game of mirrors in which the actress copies the mimics, expressions and attitudes of her “living” model.

Todd Haynes evokes the complexity of human beings, moral ambiguity, judgment, manipulation, and even the making of cinema, in this highly aesthetic film, shot quickly (23 days) on a “low” budget despite two stars. The filmmaker makes skilful use of Michel Legrand’s music composed for Joseph Losey’s “Le Messager” (and used on French TV’s “Faites entrer l’accusé”!), and the beauty of his shots make “May December” a fine piece of cinema, but its overflow of style and lack of stakes (a Hollywood star prepares a role) ultimately render it superficial.

Patrick TARDIT

“May December”, by Todd Haynes, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore (release January 24).

Young Hollywood star Elizabeth (Natalie Portman, right) prepares for her upcoming role as Gracie (Julianne Moore), married to a much younger man.
Young Hollywood star Elizabeth (Natalie Portman, right) prepares for her upcoming role as Gracie (Julianne Moore), married to a much younger man.
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