The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | “May December” is a brilliantly performed highlight of 2023 cinema

Todd Haynes’ newest film is a roller coaster of emotion, discomfort, and unsettling hilarity.
Cody Blissett
Photo Illustration by Cody Blissett

“May December,” the latest release from acclaimed director Todd Haynes, is a twisted, uncomfortable, and oddly funny tale of manipulation and morality.

Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and newcomer Charles Melton, “May December” features some of the highest-quality acting of 2023. In a year chock-full of unforgettable performances, this film stands out.

I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t expressly recognize Melton’s performance as Joe Yoo. Known for his portrayal of Reggie Mantle on “Riverdale,” Melton is a bonafide revelation in “May December.” He is nearly pitch-perfect, exhibiting the nuances of a fragile, sheltered man in every move he makes.

Regardless of what happens this awards season, Melton deserves the utmost praise for his unique and compelling performance.

The storyline of the film is, in a word, disturbing. Portman’s character Elizabeth Berry is an actress set to portray Gracie Atherton-Yoo, played by Moore, in a film about her infamous relationship with her husband nearly 20 years her junior, Joe Yoo.

Beginning when Gracie was 36 and Joe was 13, the pair’s sexual relations led to Gracie serving time in prison. At the time of the film, they had been married for nearly 24 years and had three children, all of which are college-aged.

Both Joe and Gracie are children in their own right. Joe stumbles over his words and has the demeanor of a skittish youth. Gracie has a lisp and utilizes “baby-talk” when things aren’t going her way.

Joe’s behavior is to be expected, as he never truly experienced childhood, and Gracie’s is indicative of her fetishization of adolescence.

The subtle “youthfulness” of both characters is a testament to the rich character work done behind the scenes.

Standing on the sidelines is Elizabeth, uncovering the true evil at the root of the relationship and observing for her own benefit. Portman is hauntingly hilarious as a woman with a nonexistent moral compass.

I found “May December” to be a bold and ambitious film. Audience reception will be polarized due to the disturbing subject matter, but it is a must-see for anyone appreciative of quality acting, streaming on Netflix starting Dec. 1.

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About the Contributors
Will Bower, Arts Reporter
Will Bower is a freshman student at the University of Iowa. Hailing from the suburbs of Des Moines, Will has a double major in Journalism and History. Before arriving in Iowa City, Will worked on his high school publication and was active in the theatrical arts. At the Daily Iowan, Will works as a news reporter and looks forward to gaining experience in a professional newsroom.
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.