These days, people can get their gossip fix from shows like The Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules or from podcasts and TikToks alike. But in the 1990s and 2000s, that guilty pleasure sweet tooth was usually satiated with tabloid magazines. Celebrity couples like Ben and Jen, Bradjelina, and TomKat were tabloid fixtures, of course, but so were seedy true crime stories like that of Mary Kay Letourneau, a convicted felon who, as a 34 year old teacher in 1996, began a sexual relationship with a 12 year old student. The story is clearly very disturbing, but it also fascinated Americans, selling countless tabloids in the process.
This obsession with salacious gossip and real criminal activity is explored in the excellent new film from Todd Haynes called May December, which is streaming on Netflix. The film stars Julianne Moore as a Letourneau-like figure, but it focuses in on the story years later, after Moore’s character Gracie has served her prison time and is now married to Charles Melton’s character, Joe, whom Gracie began an affair with when he was 13. The movie kicks off when Natalie Portman’s character, an actress named Elizabeth, comes to town to research Gracie and Joe in preparation for a new acting role.
May December strikes a fascinating tone – it is intentionally funny and arch at times, but it is also a serious and sobering depiction of grooming and sexual exploitation in the modern world. With a soap operatic approach and stellar turns from Melton, Portman, and Moore alike // May December is bursting onto the film scene with its thoughtful and entertaining examination of how things like this happen.. And why Americans can’t get enough of it when they do.
May December is now streaming on Netflix.