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The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

[MOVIE REVIEW] May December poses questions about ethics and entertainment

BE+ME.+May+December+tells+the+story+of+an+actress%2C+Elizabeth+Berry+%28Natalie+Portman%29%2C+and+her+research+into+a+controversial+former+tabloid+star%2C+Gracie+Atherton-Yoo+%28Julianne+Moore%29.+Elizabeth+is+playing+Gracie+in+an+upcoming+movie+that+will+depict+the+beginning+of+the+latter%E2%80%99s+scandalous+relationship+with+husband+Joe+Yoo+%28Charles+Melton%29%2C+which+started+when+Joe+was+13+and+Gracie+was+36.+%28Screenshot+from+May+December+Official+Trailer%29
BE ME. May December tells the story of an actress, Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman), and her research into a controversial former tabloid star, Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore). Elizabeth is playing Gracie in an upcoming movie that will depict the beginning of the latter’s scandalous relationship with husband Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), which started when Joe was 13 and Gracie was 36. (Screenshot from May December Official Trailer)

May December, director Todd Haynes’s newest film, has turned out to be a film critic favorite. It received four Golden Globe nominations, was named one of 2023’s top ten films by the American Film Institute, and was nominated for the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

In other words, it’s doing something right. But how exactly did it set itself up to hit the mark? And why are people connecting so heavily?

May December tells the story of an actress, Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman), and her research into a controversial former tabloid star, Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore). Elizabeth is playing Gracie in an upcoming movie that will depict the beginning of the latter’s scandalous relationship with husband Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), which started when Joe was 13 and Gracie was 36. Elizabeth’s research for her role brings her into Gracie and Joe’s home, and as she insinuates herself further into their lives, the cracks in their relationship begin to show.

Right off the bat, May December draws audiences in with its salacious premise. And, like the fictional movie it depicts, it’s partially based on a real-life situation, which only adds to the drama. The film has frequently been described as “campy,” with over-the-top musical flourishes accompanying mundane realizations (Will there be enough hot dogs for the cookout?).

The subject matter and execution seem well-matched, and audiences and critics have caught on.

Right off the bat, May December draws audiences in with its salacious premise.

Plus, the film’s obsession with public image and fame clearly parallels modern society. The heyday of physical tabloids might be over, but celebrity culture is far from dead. In fact, social media has made celebrities more accessible than ever before: now, they can interact directly with their audiences through posts, stories and comments. Yet this unrestrained access to people’s private lives comes with a price.

Although May December doesn’t focus on social media, it does pose questions about how ethical it is for Elizabeth to play Gracie on screen. It prompts the audience to consider if it’s alright to take advantage of real, living people for content. In other words, it shows the price that Gracie and Joe have had to pay for the public’s access to their private lives — a price they didn’t want to pay in the first place. People have brought up a similar sentiment in relation to TikTok videos being filmed and posted without the subject’s consent. TikToks and movies may seem different in all but medium, but when considered together in the context of this film, their connections seem stronger than ever.

May December is well-crafted and well-acted, but its true draw may come from how it depicts drama and celebrity. It’s perfectly suited for viewers in a society that’s being constantly documented online.

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About the Contributor
Eliza Farley, Opinions Editor, Iris EIC
My name is Eliza Farley (she/her). I work as the Opinions Editor for The Rubicon and as the Editor-in-Chief of Iris: Art + Lit. At school, I play tennis and softball, and I also play the oboe in the school orchestra. I love to shop for cute stationery and make paper airplanes. I can be reached at [email protected].

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