In May December (2023), by Todd Haynes, a committed actress played by Natalie Portman, temporarily stays with and studies a Mary Kay Letourneau-like character (Julianne Moore) whom Portman’s Elizabeth will portray in a movie. Gracie (Moore) has long been married to Joe (Charles Melton), the man she fell for when he was only thirteen.

Samy Burch‘s perceptive script serves up the themes of exploitation and objectification (both coming from Elizabeth), confusion and pressure in an abnormal household, and when an abnormal person like Gracie creates an abnormal marriage. Passably does Moore play a naive and neurotic woman. In a sad moment, she comments that Elizabeth is “getting on her last nerve”—this puzzles Joe—without quite knowing what she is saying. Persuasively and unshowily Melton and Portman play their roles.

A Netflixer, May December is not woke or semi-literate or trite. It is a brittle triumph which, as critic Alison Willmore indicates, approaches the place of horror without reaching it. This is proper, as are the nice comic touches along the way.