After The Idea of You, watch May December: A sordid, deeply uncomfortable film on age-gap relationship | Hollywood - Hindustan Times
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After The Idea of You, watch May December: A sordid, deeply uncomfortable film on age-gap relationship

May 12, 2024 01:47 PM IST

Weekend Ticket: In Todd Haynes' May December, a Television actress heads to study the life of a woman infamous for her romance with a much younger man.

The sweet and hopeful world of The Idea of You, where a 40-year-old single mother named Solene (Anne Hathaway) falls in love with a 24-year-old musician from a boy band named Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), gets a feathery rom-com treatment. Yet, for all the feel-good moments, there also exists a parallel world which thrives on widespread scrutiny of this uncommon relationship. There are photographers outside Solene's house all the time, and the media coverage is worse. When Solene goes on the internet to check how this has been covered, she shudders at the comments made by strangers. The Idea of You doesn't have much to say about this deeply uncomfortable tabloid fascination that exists in mainstream culture. (Also read: The Idea of You's Nicholas Galitzine says this about comparisons with Harry Styles: ‘I think Hayes is…’)

Julianne Moore and Charles Melton in a still from May December.
Julianne Moore and Charles Melton in a still from May December.

It is in this aspect that Todd Haynes' May December makes a compelling case. The dark comedy attains a provocative look when we realize that the story is loosely based on the real-life events of Mary Kay Letourneau, a 34-year-old teacher who victimised her 12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau. In May December, the story is fictionalised to tell the account of Gracie (Julianne Moore) and her much younger husband, Joe (Charles Melton), whom she first met when he was in seventh grade. She was 36 years old then. Their affair leaked out to the public, and she was imprisoned. Years later, a film is being made about this story. So, when Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), the lead actress who will be playing the part of Gracie, enters their household, the intrigue begins to fall off. With her perspective, we see the history of this relationship unravel from a distance.

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May December operates on a deeply uncomfortable conceit, where the audience comes to view this story from the point of view of Elizabeth. Even though years have passed, has the nasty sense of fascination with the story ceased? Not quite. Not until the very end of the film do we actually see a snippet of the film- and the treatment that this scandalous story will get. Elizabeth repeatedly tells earlier that the film will be 'complex' and hold something 'true'. But as Elizabeth will soon realise, not everything is as normal as it seems in the household. Underneath the seemingly naive personality that Gracie projects, she is ultimately safe in her own disregard. Elizabeth becomes more pointed with her questions: every question she asks, every detail she tries to note down comes with precision. Even her insistence on visiting Joe at work alone, hides the motive where she wants to see who exactly this person is.

As Elizabeth and Gracie clash between their passive-aggressive set of egos and projections, the film shifts to locate the shattering consequence in the form of Joe. A man trapped in his own kind of submission, the tone of May December changes whenever he is on screen. It comes together into this poignant scene on the rooftop, where Joe has a moment of connection with his teenage son Charlie (Gabriel Chung), who will be off to college the next day. "I just want you to have a good life,” Joe tells him as he breaks down crying. When Charlie tells him not to worry about him, all Joe is about to utter in a broken voice, is: "It's all I do."

It is in Melton's thoughtful and layered performance where May December holds its devastating power. He might never be able to come to terms with what his life has become and see where it is headed. May December is a slippery, complex puzzle of a film that thrives on the provocation of how Hollywood (and the film industry, in a wider scope) interprets these thorny stories for its own appeal. Love is never the answer. What matters are the questions of whose side of the story do we have access to, and who are we ready to believe. When Elizabeth finally calls for another take at the very end, what kind of calculation is she arriving at? Are we, as viewers, not complicit in this interrogation?

Both The Idea of You and May December are available to watch on Prime Video.

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