May December

A movie about a movie about a scandal

A famous method actress making a movie based on a lurid, decades-old scandal is graciously invited by the woman at its center, who went to prison for it, to spend some time with her and her family in the interest of openness and accuracy. Noble, no? Admirable.

I’ll not tell you the nature of the scandal; its revelation is one of the movie’s best bits. But the multiplex crowd should know early on that this is from Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven, I’m Not there, Carol and The Velvet Underground). Haynes is a visionary who makes disturbingly personal psychodramas for grown-ups that expose his characters’ (and often his audiences’) most deeply hidden flaws.

So, not a laff riot. But all that said, this is the closest the director has ever come to comedy, injecting some very subtle, satiric jabs at today’s Hollywood “process.”

This meticulously crafted, closely focused character study, while an uncomfortable sit, is a pleasure to watch. There’s a lot going on here, but not a move, not a frame, is unintentional. What makes it a must-see for serious moviegoers are the layered performances by the two leads, Julianne Moore (a Haynes regular, always excellent) and Natalie Portman engaging in an almost comical push-pull dynamic. Late in the movie Portman delivers a complex soliloquy that is simply stunning. Not to be missed. (117 min)