Tuesday, 21 May 2024

‘May December’ explores a sex scandal; ‘Archie’ on Britbox

Anyone remembering sex scandals of the late Nineties (not involving Monica Lewinsky) may recall the tabloid fodder story of Mary Kay Letourneau, a 35-year-old teacher convicted of child rape in a sexual relationship with a sixth-grade student.

The Netflix film “May December” is an unsettling reminder of a case of pedophilia that should not be normalized under any circumstance. The characters here are fictional, with the Letourneau story merely a twisted premise for a fraught history of predatory scandal.

Natalie Portman’s Elizabeth is a Hollywood actress preparing for some method acting by exploring first-hand the story of the older woman Gracie (Julianne Moore) having an affair outside her marriage with a 13-year-old co-worker at a pet store.

The child who had sex with Gracie in the store’s stockroom is now 36-year-old Joe (Charles Melton). The scandal happened more than 20 years ago, and even though Joe and Gracie are married and living in Savannah, Georgia, the couple may never escape the opprobrium of the townsfolk.

Embedding herself with the family, Elizabeth took interest in the script of an indie film to take the starring role, thinking aloud that in Gracie she sees “a woman with a lot more to her than I remember from the tabloids and our cultural memory.”

Elizabeth sits down with Gracie’s ex-husband Tom (D.W. Moffett), and discovers that to this day he has not gotten over the shock of being married to a then 36-year-old woman having an affair with a seventh-grade student.

As the affair led to pregnancy, Joe and Gracie have three children, the oldest being Honor (Piper Curda) coming home from college with a chip on her shoulder, while the younger twins Mary (Elizabeth Yu) and Charlie (Gabriel Chung) are about to graduate from high school.

“May December” moves at a laborious pace, seemingly entreating the viewer to savor the dialogue and parse the words for hidden meaning, while figuring out whether the emotions and feelings of the characters reveal some sort of truth.

Throughout the movie, it seems all too often that family members from Gracie and Joe to their three children say things are “fine” when one senses the expression cloaks a deeper sense of anguish bubbling under the surface.

As the film closes with Elizabeth on set with a young lover, I am at a loss on the symbolism of the garden snake she holds, but then the supposed edgy, dark humor also doesn’t resonate in a meaningful way for me. Viewers will need to arrive at their own suppositions.

Even though the focus is apparently Natalie Portman’s Elizabeth analyzing the essence of Julian Moore’s Gracie for her film role, “May December” belongs in great part to Charlie Melton’s Joe, a man-child at a crossroads in processing the reality of life.


The four-part series “Archie” on BritBox is about the life of Hollywood leading man Gary Grant, who was born in Bristol, England in 1904 with the given name of Archibald Alexander Leach.

Tracing his troubled childhood in a family living in extreme poverty, Archie’s story as a child had to deal with his father’s adultery and the loss of his older brother John that tore the family apart and sent his loving mother into a downward spiral of grief and depression.

At 14, Archie auditioned for the music hall act of the Bob Pender Troupe, a band of acrobats, stilt walkers, clowns and comedians after seeing them perform at the Bristol Hippodrome.

Lean and athletic, Archie learned the art of stilt walking, and when the troupe went on tour to the United States, teenage Archie was intoxicated by the land of opportunity. Believing he had no family to return to in England, he decided to stay in America to try to make his way in show business.

With no thoughts of acting, a chance meeting with the comedian George Burns helped him find his first footing on the acting ladder and a contract with a movie studio who felt he needed to change his name, and Cary Grant was born.

The drama intercuts with scenes from 1961 when at the height of his fame, living in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, the legendary actor (Jason Isaacs) was breaking all box office records, but desperately unhappy in his private life.

With two failed marriages behind him, Cary began to woo an actress he’d seen on a TV show, Dyan Cannon (Laura Aikman). Thirty-three years his junior, Dyan didn’t initially fall for his charms, turning down his attempts to meet, because she didn’t feel they could ever be a match.

Dashingly handsome, suave and sophisticated, Cary continued to pursue her, with introductions to his famous friends, until they eventually wed in Las Vegas in 1965. The marriage didn’t last long but the couple had a daughter.

With the blessing of Cary Grant’s daughter, Jennifer Grant, and ex-wife Dyan Cannon, the pair serve as Executive Producers of “Archie.” Dainton Anderson, Calam Lynch, and Oaklee Pendergast pay young versions of Archie Leach.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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