Was Natalie Portman Snubbed For Her Role In “May/December”?

Jewish actress Natalie Portman stars as an actress researching her role playing a former teacher (Julianne Moore) who had an illegal affair with her student and later married. Loosely based on the true story of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau , despite some flaws, Portman and Moore both deliver outstanding performances.
February 15, 2024

Some lines should never be crossed and there is no excuse for doing it. One of them is that a teacher should never engage in any romantic behavior with a student. Directed by Todd Haynes, “May/December” gets its name from the term used to describe an affair between an older and younger person. It is loosely based on the true story of Mary Kay Letourneau, convicted of raping of a child for sleeping with sixth grader Vili Fualaau when she was 34 and he was 12.

Portman plays Elizabeth, an actress who is coming to study Gracie (Julianne Moore) because she is playing her in an upcoming movie. Gracie is married to her former student, the handsome and muscular Joe Yoo, played by Charles Melton.

When Joe sees a commercial of Elizabeth washing her face, saying she is clean and fresh, Joe begins to internalize that he is not. Gracie is tightly wound and treats her husband like a boy. It seems he never grew up emotionally . At one point, climbs onto the roof and smokes marijuana on with his son; it is the son who has to comfort him, rather than the reverse. At a graduation dinner the two women eat plates of food while both Joe and his son eat a hamburger with a toothpick still in it, signifying Joe is still a boy.

Elizabeth and Joe are both 36, but he has kids about to go to college and she has no children yet.

Gracie tells Elizabeth she married her first husband Tom because he was “perfect on paper” and her father said the only way she would leave the house would be in a veil or a box. How does one get inside the head of a sick person who committed a criminal act that decades later tries to either justify it or sweep it under the rug?  There is a fitting metaphor in that Joe watched an episode of Bob Villa’s “This Old House” about construction to fox homes when the foundations of his home are unstable. A dangerous attraction brews between Elizabeth and Joe.

Gracie handles the stress by baking pineapple upside down cakes while Joe smokes cigarettes. When Elizabeth comes to talk to students, she is asked about acting in sex scenes. She says sometimes it is mechanical but sometimes there is an attraction between actors, which she says begs the question, “Am I pretending that I’m experiencing pleasure or am I pretending that I’m not experiencing pleasure?” Asked why she would want to play a bad person, she says it’s the complexity and the gray areas that attract her to those roles. Joe says he does not want to be seen as a victim because he’s been married for more than 20 years. When Gracie shows Elizabeth a card Joe wrote when he was in elementary school, we wonder if she is completely out of her mind. Joe also cries, seemingly for no reason.

One of the more powerful scenes is when Gracie teaches Elizabeth how she puts on her makeup in front of a mirror. Elizabeth treats her husband like an errand boy, and he appears bored with her, preferring to take care of bugs.

He makes an impulsive decision near the end of the movie that doesn’t yield the results he wants. This causes him to berate his wife in a cathartic moment and the film takes lines that were said in a real life interview of Letourneau and Fualaau, when she tries to make it seems like she hadn’t done anything wrong. The last minutes of the film include a powerful and disturbing monologue by Portman.

“May/December” is a strong film movie that sneaks up on you. Portman certainly was snubbed and should have gotten an Oscar nomination For Best Supporting Actress over Jodie Foster in “Nyad.” The film should have been nominated for Best Picture over either “The Zone of Interest” or “Anatomy of A Fall.”

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