"It's like looking in a mirror, only not" are words said by John Travolta in Face/Off that could easily be applied to May December, the new film from Todd Haynes that sees Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore go toe-to-toe with one another in a high camp romantic drama.

Twenty years after their notorious tabloid romance gripped the nation, a married couple (Julianne Moore and Charles Melton) with a large age gap buckles under the pressure when an actress (Natalie Portman) arrives to do research for a film about their past.
It doesn't take long for Todd Haynes to let the audience know exactly what kind of film they are in for. The zoom on Moore's character, Marcelo Zarvos' melodramatic piano score and her line delivery about hot dogs being pitched perfectly. Sounds ridiculous but it gives the film an intentional daytime soap likeness, something it runs with throughout to great effect. Samy Burch's screenplay is full of wit and deviousness as it explores a relationship between an artist and her subject.

There's a dark undertone to the film owing to the nature of Gracie and Joe's relationship and how it all started. Burch and Alex Mechanik peel back more as the film moves along, their story simmering until reaching boiling point by the end. The score from Marcelo Zarvos really adds to it all, intentionally overbearing at times to accentuate the melodrama of it all.
Pairing Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore together means you should expect fireworks. The pair are both schemingly brilliant, the former trying to break the latter's facade covering a tumultuous past. The melodramatic angle serves both actresses well, Portman with the mimicking of her subject and Moore going rather over-the-top in some instances. There's a really solid supporting performance from Charles Melton as the husband caught in the middle, everything not as it seems with more being revealed about the relationship with his wife.

May December is a delightful surprise from London Film Festival this year, Todd Haynes making a devilish drama with two actresses at the top of their game.

Verdict: ★★★★


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