DRAMA; 1hr 53min
STARRING: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton
Made up? From left, Portman and Moore
No one can ever know what married schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau was thinking when in 1996, at age 34, she began an affair with her 12-year-old student Vili Fualaau. Letourneau and Fualaau would have two daughters together, the second born in prison, where Letourneau was serving seven and a half years for second-degree rape of a child. Predictably, their relationship was an international tabloid feeding frenzy. Yet the marriage that resulted from it lasted 14 years.
In director Todd Haynes’s unnerving reimagining of Letourneau and Fualaau’s inside story, Gracie Atherton-Yoo and Joe Yoo (Moore and Melton) are a well-to-do couple who live with their teenage twins (Gabriel Chung and Elizabeth Yu) in a palatial Savannah home. Gracie and Joe first connected sexually in 1992 when she was a 36-year-old wife and mother and he was a 13-year-old, fellow pet-store employee. In the current timeline of 2015, actress Elizabeth Berry (Portman), who at 36 is the same age as Joe, is planning to play the younger Gracie in a movie and is visiting the couple as part of her research.
Despite its mutual politeness, the two women’s interaction is tinged with awkwardness. There is a sense of steely control to the genteel Gracie — albeit one brilliantly juxtaposed by Moore with weepy helplessness in a key tumultuous scene. And while Elizabeth is outwardly deferential, her level gaze misses nothing. Joe, meanwhile, is subdued at first almost to the point of non-presence, as if developmentally frozen in time.
To Elizabeth, when choosing a role, “It’s the moral grey areas that are interesting.” Since that same ambiguity is the subtext of Gracie and Joe’s contentious dynamic, the deeper Elizabeth digs, the more fractures she is bound to uncover, conceivably at the cost of her own objectivity. Does a covetous Elizabeth believe she is merging with Gracie, or is she attempting to sabotage her? Some needs and wants can never be boxed and labelled, regardless of how absolute the surface facts may seem.