(director: Todd Haynes; screenwriters: Samy Burch/story Burch & Alex Mechanik; cinematographer: Christopher Blauvett; editor: Affonso Goncalves; music: Marcelo Zavros; cast: Natalie Portman (Elizabeth Berry), Julianne Moore (Gracie Atherton-Yoo), Charles Melton (Joe Yoo), Lawrence Arancio (Morris Sperber), Cory Michael Smith (Georgie Atherton), Elizabeth Yu (Mary), Gabriel Chung (Charlie), Piper Curda (Honor), D.W. Moffet (Tom Atherton), Lawrence Arancia (Local Cop); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Natalie Portman, Sophie Mas, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler, Grant S. Johnson, Tyler W. Konney, Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell; Mountain Killer Films; 2023)

“It’s an eye-opening film that lured me into watching something I didn’t think I wanted to see.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The unsettling true story is played out as melodrama. It’s a mix of exploitative and exploratory filming, that’s loosely based on the infamous case of Mary Kay Letourneau. In the film Julianne Moore plays Gracie Atherton-Yoo, who went to jail after having sex with the Korean 12-year-old Joe Yoo, a co-worker at the pet store, then had his children and married the young man when he was 13 and 20 years her junior.

Todd Haynes
(“Carol”/”I’m Not There”) skillfully directs this unsettling film that turns on shame and scandal into a story that is keenly observed, even if done as camp. It follows events twenty years after the tabloid barrage over the incident. The story focuses on a TV actress, Elizabeth Berry (
Natalie Portman), acting as if a journalist, who arrives in Savannah, Georgia to spend a few days meeting the 53-year-old disgraced woman and her 33-year-old husband Joe (Charles Melton) and their twins (Mary (Elizabeth Yu) and Charlie (Gabriel Chong), who are graduating from high school), to do research on her role of playing Gracie for an upcoming TV film on her life.

Though living with the tarnished family is awkward for the actress, nevertheless some curious observations are made that you can’t get from only knowing the headlines.

In the course of her research, Elizabeth chats with Grace’s ex-husband (D.W. Moffet) over coffee to get his reaction to things. She tries to determine the mental health of her excitable subject who now runs a small cake baking business, in a town that whisper about her behind her back. She discovers that Joe seems to be a nice guy, but has his own issues. And the kids are a bit touchy when she questions them, as they prepare for their prom.

The flick was fun, and the more you get into it the more it has to reveal. I couldn’t help thinking it was somewhat like Douglas Sirk’s masterful Imitation of Life, and that’s a good thing.

Portman and Moore have roles that they are perfectly suited for and beautifully play off each other.

It’s an eye-opening film that lured me into watching something I didn’t think I wanted to see. It’s psychologically enticing, the storytelling is thoughtful (allowing the viewer to judge for themselves the morality of the relationship). And the musical score by Marcelo Zavros is rapturous, as it follows Michel Legrand’s 1971 score for The Go Between.

It’s based on the story by Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik.

It played at Cannes.

REVIEWED ON 5/31/2023  GRADE: B+