Thu, April 25, 2024

In ‘May December,’ Savannah Sets the Stage

Moviegoers and lovers of complex drama will adore Todd Haynes’ new flick May December, but Savannahans will fall head-over-heels upon seeing many of their favorite locales as the host of its most pertinent scenes. Actors, Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore star in the film, shot entirely on location in Georgia’s most historic city.

The film, which was released on Netflix on December 1st, is a dark and hilarious story of actress Elizabeth Berry (Portman) who arrives in the city in 2015 to meet and research a role she intends to play, Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Moore), in an upcoming independent movie. In 1992, Gracie was embroiled in a tabloid frenzy when she seduced her 13-year-old co-worker, Joe Yoo, at the local pet store (actually, it’s Savannah’s own ‘Exotic Underworlds in movie makeup’). Now, Gracie is married to Joe, who arguably never left seventh grade. He follows Gracie’s marching orders and makes awkward small talk with his children and adult stepchildren, one of whom Gracie carried and birthed in prison for statutory rape.


The movie within the movie seems juicy enough, but Elizabeth comes to learn that the web of secrets tangled within this family grows bigger and bigger. Gracie seems a right sociopath, and Joe (played in brilliant subtlety by Charles Melton) appears to oscillate between Grade-A dunce and Patty Hearst-levels of frozen-in-time.

As for the local hot spots: The Atherton-Yoos live on Tybee Island, in all its solitary splendor. Downtown’s Bull Street makes an appearance, specifically with the Gallery Espresso, where Elizabeth meets Gracie’s ex-husband. Two iconic Savannah restaurants, The Crab Shack and Garibaldi are stages set for more family unraveling for Portman’s character, full enough from the meal that this part has handed her. Of course, what would Savannah be without a ghost tour? Yes, there’s one in the background, serenading Elizabeth’s interview with Gracie’s son over a smoke.

Garibaldi restaurant was just one of the Savannah locations where May December was filmed.

It’s easy to understand why Savannah would make a decent backdrop for this story (haunted city, haunted characters), but it’s just so plum nice to see the city not decorated as “Berlin” or “Cannes.” It is Savannah, and it puts all the sensory elements of the city on full display. The only way it could’ve felt more real is if yours truly were spotted pacing around, headphones and joggers, in the background (probably coming up with a snappy title for this piece). Alas, my big break didn’t come.

Apart from cheering at the cameos of our home turf, the film is simply delicious; hot with truths uncovered in real-time through a young woman’s eyes who seeks vengeance through performance. Portman is gorgeous and plays tremendously well off the boiling eccentricity of Julianne Moore’s Gracie. The script and directing are both snappy, teetering on light farce with the trainwreck that is this family. Yet, there is a delicate balance of light and darkness commandeered by Todd Haynes, a filmmaker who shines in personal stories about hardly personable people.

Georgia stays winning when it comes to filmmaking as of late, and May December might as well be our Oscar night. It’s fun, it’s organic, and it’s local!

Dylan James graduated from the Savannah College of Art & Design with a BFA in Dramatic Writing. He has studied both the ‘show’ and ‘business’ aspects of show business since childhood, and writes through sociological analysis, seeking relevance in the art and commerce for the moment.

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