‘May December': First Reactions Praise the Return of Todd Haynes in ‘Campy’ Dark Comedy

Director Todd Haynes’ is receiving high marks for his dark comedy “May December,” which debuted at Cannes on Saturday, with praise abounding for his return to the narrative film world after a three-year absence (the 2019 feature “Dark Waters”).

The film starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, centers on an actress who travels to Maine to study a woman whom she intends to portray on film.

Sky Cinema has already acquired UK distribution rights, and judging by the first batch of buzz, other markets may not be far behind. The picture seems to continue the filmmaker’s interest in dysfunctional civilizations and skewed gender roles. His early 1990s work, including “Poison” saw him hailed as a leading figure in New Queer Cinema (or “The Queer New Wave”).

“May December” marks his fifth feature film collaboration with Julianne Moore following “Safe” in 1995, the Douglas Sirk homage “Far from Heaven” in 2002, the eclectic Bob Dylan biopic (which featured the musician played by a host of actors and actresses) “I’m Not Here” in 2007 and the 2011 drama “Wonderstruck.”

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IndieWire’s David Ehrlich proclaimed the film “the best movie that premiered at #Cannes2023 today.” That’s high praise, indeed, considering he’s referring to the other high profile screening today: Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

No surprise that Haynes’ feature is getting the “camp” word associated with it, a common trope that accompanies most of his films. Kyle Buchanan of The New York Times called the film, “Juicy, funny, campy and immediately the most quotable movie of Cannes.” He and Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson also cited CW-star Charles Melton as a particular standout, comparing him to “Elvis” breakout star, Austin Butler.

David Rooney, critic for The Hollywood Reporter, was one of the few critical voices not effusive in his praise. He said, “Natalie Portman and frequent Todd Haynes muse Julianne Moore are doing spectacular work in the director’s MAY DECEMBER even if its emotional heat could be turned up a notch.”

As always, the flurry of first reactions out of a major red carpet or festival screening should be taken with a grain of salt. Compare, just this week, the immediate reactions to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Dial of Destiny” with the mixed-negative reviews that dropped hours later.

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