Netflix’s ‘May December’: Mary Kay Letourneau Scandal
How Netflix’s ‘May December’ Mirrors the Mary Kay Letourneau Tabloid Sex Scandal
In Todd Haynes’ compelling Netflix drama, “May December,” the specter of a decades-old tabloid sex scandal takes center stage as Julianne Moore embodies the controversial figure Gracie Atherton-Yoo. Caught in a tumultuous affair with a 13-year-old boy, Gracie’s life unfolds onscreen, drawing parallels to the notorious Mary Kay Letourneau scandal of the late 1990s.
Gracie, portrayed by Moore, was 36 when her illicit relationship with 13-year-old Joe (Charles Melton) made headlines. The film delves into their journey, from Gracie’s incarceration and the birth of her first child behind bars to building a life with Joe, who is now the same age she was when their story began. As the couple settles into suburban life with three children, the arrival of actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) shakes the foundations of their quiet existence.
The narrative, inspired by the Letourneau scandal, mirrors the unsettling tale of a 34-year-old teacher’s inappropriate relationship with her 12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau. The film captures the aftermath, including Letourneau’s arrest, guilty pleas, and the complex dynamics of her relationship with Fualaau, culminating in marriage after her release from a 7.5-year jail sentence.
Director Todd Haynes, in an interview with The Daily Beast, acknowledged the challenge of distinguishing “May December” from the Letourneau story. Despite efforts to focus on script nuances, the similarities became unavoidable. Haynes highlighted the value of specific details, including the distinctive voices of the characters, such as Gracie’s noticeable lisp inspired by Letourneau’s intriguing speech patterns.
“I started by pushing that to the side and just being like, ‘Okay, let’s bear down on the specific choices and the distinctions that Samy Burch’s script makes from the Mary Kay Letourneau story,’” Haynes said in an interview.
The film portrays Gracie as “unapologetic,” echoing Letourneau’s public facade of confidence. The complex family dynamics further parallel Letourneau’s life, exploring the relationships between Gracie’s older and younger children, reminiscent of Letourneau’s blended family structure.
“May December” is not merely a recreation but a thought-provoking exploration of human choices, societal judgment, and the consequences of controversial relationships. As it streams on Netflix, the film invites viewers to engage with the intricacies of a narrative that mirrors a real-life scandal, prompting reflection on the complexities of human behavior and redemption.