The awards season is inching closer, and the year-end listicles of the best films are out, and ‘May December’ is unanimously on every list this year. In May 2023, Todd Haynes brought the film to the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a thunderous response with an eight-minute standing ovation at the Grand Theatre Lumière. The film stars Todd’s forever muse, Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, and Charles Melton.
Samy Burch authored the screenplay for ‘May December’. It is a film about Gracie, played by Julianne Moore, and her husband, Joe, who are both happily settled with three children. Natalie Portman plays Elizabeth Berry, an actress who arrives at the couple’s place to draw inspiration for an upcoming biopic. While Elizabeth studies them, many unearthed secrets come to the surface. There is a chatter that the screenplay is based on a real story that was heavily covered by the tabloids in the 1990s.
‘May December’ Is Loosely Based On Mary Kay Letourneau Case
Todd Haynes’ directorial feature ‘May December’ created quite a buzz for the fictional retelling of a story that boosted the tabloid culture in the 1990s. The movie was released on November 17, 2023, in theaters, and it was released on Netflix on December 1, 2023. The story of the Natalie Portman-starrer shares a lot of resemblance with the 1990s Seattle story of a teacher named Mary Kay Letourneau.
In 1997, Mary Kay Letourneau was imprisoned for raping a minor student, Vili Fualaau, when he was 12 years old. The Seattle teacher began the heinous crime in 1996. By the time Vili reached the age of 15, Mary bore two children, and one of them was born in prison while she was serving the seven-year sentence for violating the no-contact order.
However, in 2004, following her release when Vili Fualaau was an adult, along with Mary Kay Letourneau, they fought and won to overturn the no-contact order. The two got married in 2005, but they got separated in 2019. In 2020, Mary died due to colorectal cancer.
Is The Story Similar To The Case?
Todd Haynes’ story may be completely different from the case, but the contextual narrative is the same. In the film, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton play wife and husband. She is in her 50s, and he is in his 30s. The couple is leading a calm life as all three children will be off to college.
But the beginning was not as smooth as their lives get. Gracie had an affair with Joe when he was in seventh grade, as he worked in her pet shop. However, their lives are shattered after Elizabeth enters their lives, who is in town to research for a role. It opens the old wounds from the inception of their relationship.
So, the story bore some resemblance to the original story. In an interview with Deadline, director Todd Haynes said that he was not aware of the case, but he heard about it. When he read the script by Samy Burch, he decided to work on the fictional part first.
However, once Todd started building the characters, especially Julianne’s Gracie, he started to have a conversation about the real case. He praised Moore and said, “At the same time, she was the one who was like, “OK, I watched the A&E doc last night. You’ve got to watch this. You’re going to freak out.” I was like, “OK, I guess it’s time. Here we go.”
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