Netflix’s May December: The True Story and Inspiration Behind the Movie

By Louie Fecou
Published: November 1, 2023 (Last updated: December 18, 2023)
May December True Story and Inspiration
Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore in May December | Image via Netflix

Darkly comedic and controversial Netflix film May December stars Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, and follows a Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Berry (Portman), who has landed a role in an upcoming feature film that has a notorious backstory. The film explores the moral maze of the characters, and the complex issues that the story brings to the surface, and is no doubt going to have the audience wondering about the nature of the relationship. Adding to the intricacies is the film’s background, which has the audience speculating about its inspiration and whether it is based on a true story.

It’s not a straightforward question to answer, since while May December isn’t directly based on a true story, it does share many similarities and parallels with one.

Is Netflix’s May December based on a true story?

May December at first glance looks like a work of fiction. The characters are fictitious and the narrative is presented in a language of film that we all understand, but underneath, it does seem to mirror a true story without being strictly based on one.

The director of May December is Todd Haynes, and he has often dealt with complex and intriguing premises in his previous work, including films such as The Velvet Underground, Carol, Far From Heaven, and Dark Waters. 

What is the May December movie based on?

May December takes inspiration from a real-life relationship between Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, which made the news back in the 1990s. The story was hugely controversial because Letourneau was the sixth-grade teacher of Fualaau, a fact that has been changed for the film, which is nonetheless largely based on the case and the underlying idea of relationships between people who are worryingly far apart in age.

RELATED: Where was May December filmed?

The story shocked the nation, Letourneau was eventually charged and convicted of two counts of felony second-degree rape, and was pregnant throughout the trial, giving birth to the couple’s first child while waiting on sentencing.

Vili Fualaau and Mary Kay Latourneau

Vili Fualaau [L] and Mary Kay Latourneau [R] | Image via HEIDI GUTMAN/ABC/GETTY

She would serve three months and be released but violated her plea agreement, being caught with Fualaau again, after which she was sent back to jail. While imprisoned, she would give birth to the couple’s second child.

Serving her sentence between 1998 and 2005, the couple would be married on her release, but they would eventually go their own ways in 2019.

The trailer does show tabloid headlines that seem to connect the real-life story to the film, giving the impression that this case may be the backbone for the movie’s screenplay.

What does May December mean?

The term is often used when people are referring to a relationship where the age difference is considerable. Collins Dictionary describes it thusly: “of or designating a marriage or romantic relationship between a young person and a person who is considerably older.”

The Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson song titled September Song includes the line, “It’s a long, long time from May to December” and may be the origin of the phrase.

When is May December released?

May December will receive a limited theatrical release in US theatres from November 17th, 2023, and then will be available to stream on Netflix from December 1st, 2023. Netflix paid $11 million for the North American distribution rights.

In the UK, Sky Cinema acquired the distribution rights back in February 2023, which means that May December will likely stream on Now TV.

May December premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2023, where it was selected to compete for Palme d’Or. It was also screened as the “Opening Night Film” at the 2023 New York Film Festival on September 29.

READ: Is The Railway Men on Netflix based on a true story?

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