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May December Will Open NYFF 2023

Natalie Portman in Todd Haynes’s May December (2023)

When Todd Haynes’s May December premiered in Cannes a couple of months ago, it didn’t win any awards, but it did score solid reviews as well as one of the biggest deals at the festival when Netflix picked up North American rights for eleven million dollars. Part of that deal entails a theatrical release, and on Tuesday, Film at Lincoln Center announced that the stateside run will begin on September 29, when May December opens the sixty-first New York Film Festival.

Julianne Moore plays Gracie Atherton-Yoo, who was a married mom back in the 1990s when she had an affair with a thirteen-year-old that sparked splashy tabloid headlines. The coverage and the gossip didn’t let up when Gracie gave birth to the kid’s baby in prison. Now, in the mid-2010s, that kid, Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), has grown up to be a loving husband and father. Enter Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), an actress who aims to break out of her television rut by playing Gracie—and reenacting the scandal—in an independent film.

“Even Daniel Day-Lewis would probably have some questions about the degree to which Elizabeth insinuates herself into Atherton-Yoo family life,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “One minute she’s asking Gracie how she met her husband, the next she’s visiting Joe in secret at the hospital where he works as an X-Ray technician, and purring at her own ability to see right through him.” The Telegraph’s Tim Robey notes that Elizabeth “gets kinky kicks out of the saga in private, like an emotional vampire, already dreaming of her Oscars speech.”

Moore is “never better than when playing spiraling mania beneath the tightest of smiles,” writes Guy Lodge at Film of the Week. As Gracie and Elizabeth’s “respective constructions of ‘Gracie’ as a character merge and blur, the film begins to play as Bergman’s Persona as filtered through the gauzy lens of American daytime drama and dehumanizing National Enquirer reportage—the trappings through which Gracie, for all her protests to the contrary, still understands her story.”

While Haynes’s Far from Heaven (2002), starring Moore as a housewife in the 1950s, “reenacted the visual grammar of classic Sirkian melodrama to tell a more modern story,” writes Mark Asch at Inside Hook, “Haynes of late (especially via the strip-mall luminosity of the underrated Dark Waters) has been interested in creating a new kind of stylized melodramatic look from the raw materials of contemporary upper-middle-class consumer society. Gracie and Joe’s McMansion is on the water, with lots of windows, and Haynes and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt use the light and the space to create a shimmering, emotionally expressive, hyperreal look that’s still within the film language and familiar interiors of a Lifetime Original, with Sirkian lighting effects through double-glazed French doors instead of stained glass.”

For Beatrice Loayza, writing for Film Comment—where Devika Girish and NYFF artistic director Dennis Lim interview Haynes—May December is “a balancing act of grueling sincerity and droll artifice, insisting on the possibility of multiple truths, and subverting easy moralism and the reductive characterizations that turn people into objects of tabloid fascination.”

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