May December Parent Guide
Queasy and disturbing, this complicated film benefits from deft writing and a talented cast.
Parent Movie Review
Their relationship might have begun under a cloud, but Gracie and Joe (Julianne Moore and Charles Melton) seem to have blossomed. The couple and their charming teenagers live in a pleasant beachfront home in Savannah, Georgia, and enjoy rewarding friendships. Now Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a famous Hollywood actress, has come for a background visit before starring in a film about Gracie. As Elizabeth tries to understand Gracie and the roots of her relationship with Joe, all three people find themselves changing…
This is a profoundly unsettling movie because the truth of Gracie and Joe’s relationship is not just unusual but criminal. The couple began an affair while working at a pet store – Gracie was a married 36-year-old mother of three and Joe was a 13-year-old who was in the same class as her son. It’s an unstable foundation on which to build a life of serene suburban normalcy.
While in Savannah, Elizabeth spends time with Gracie, Joe, and their family, looking at photos, reading letters, and asking probing questions. The conversations shake Gracie’s unapologetic self-justification, unsettle Joe’s assumptions, and give Elizabeth perhaps too much understanding of Gracie’s actions…
A character-based movie like May December lives or dies with its cast and director Todd Haynes has done well with his principal actors. Julianne Moore gives us a complex Gracie, all cool assurance and brittle neediness. Joe, in the hands of Charles Melton, has remained unnaturally young. He’s a successful professional, an attentive dad, and is devoted to raising endangered butterflies, but he looks to Gracie for emotional or ethical guidance; it’s almost as if his interior life is stunted. Joe insists that he was never a victim, but as Elizabeth’s visit pulls his mind back to the past, he questions his choices and wonders about roads not taken. As for Elizabeth, she may find that in her quest to understand Gracie, she can lose herself.
Not surprisingly, a story that is based on child grooming and sexual assault is going to have disturbing elements. The early days of Gracie and Joe’s relationship are not depicted on screen but it’s impossible to ignore the “ick” factor, especially when they claim that a relationship categorized as statutory rape or child sexual assault (depending on the jurisdiction) is ok because the boy was “mature” or “sexually experienced” or because they were “in love”. It sounds sick and it feels sick. There’s no pedophilia on screen but there is sexual activity between adults, including a dimly lit adulterous sex scene with full rear male nudity. The movie also has some drinking, a scene of a father and son sharing a joint, and a bit of profanity, but the biggest negative content is what’s not on screen – the roots of the titular relationship.
To give credit where it’s due, May December is not a predictable movie. I was never certain where the film was going next. Was it going to explode in violence? Devolve into soapy melodrama? Creep into horror? Stay in its lane as a psychological drama? I won’t tell you the answer but what I can say is that the movie is queasy and sad and full of hard questions.Directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton. Running time: 117 minutes. Theatrical release December 1, 2023. Updated December 1, 2023
Watch the trailer for May December
Rating & Content Info
Why is May December rated R? May December is rated R by the MPAA for some sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language.
Violence: A box of excrement is left on someone’s porch. A character talks about hunting quails and is later seen walking through the woods with a shotgun. There’s mention of someone hitting a desk so hard his hand splits and bleeds.
Sexual Content: A husband and wife kiss in bed. A fully clothed woman acts out a sexual encounter while caressing herself and moaning. A man recollects a youthful experience of masturbating another boy. An actress discusses being in sex scenes. A woman scrolls down a state sex offender registry web page. There’s coded mention of child sexual abuse. In a very dimly lit scene a man and woman have adulterous sex which involves kissing, moaning, and thrusting. The man is fully naked and is visible from the back. As part of making a film, an adult actress strokes the hand of a child actor her character is supposed to be seducing.
Profanity: The script contains five sexual expletives, approximately a dozen terms of deity, a scatological curse, and a minor profanity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A man talks about being drunk. Adults drink alcohol but not to excess. Adults smoke cigarettes. A teenager smokes marijuana and shares it with his father.
Page last updated December 1, 2023
Related home video titles:
Gracie and Joe’s relationship is deeply troubling, originating as it did with a teacher preying on a student. In Spotlight, reporters dedicate themselves to exposing the Catholic church’s attempt to cover up the sexual abuse of children by its own priests.