The Inspiration for ‘May December’


“May December” is a fictional film released in 2023, which draws inspiration from the real-life case of Mary Kay Letourneau, a Seattle school teacher convicted of sexually assaulting her sixth-grade student, Vili Fualaau, in 1997. Letourneau began her sexual relationship with Fualaau when he was just 12 years old, and they had two children together before he turned 15. She served a prison sentence for her actions but eventually married Fualaau after her release. The film explores similar themes, such as a significant age gap and the tabloid culture surrounding such scandals, but it is a work of fiction.

In “May December,” the central characters, Gracie Athertoon-Yoo (played by Julianne Moore) and Joe Yoo (played by Charles Melton), have a significant age difference, and their relationship began when Gracie, at 36 years old, had an affair with Joe, who was a seventh-grader. The film delves into their lives in the present, as they are now in their late 50s and 30s and have built a seemingly stable family life. However, their past comes back to haunt them when an actor named Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) arrives to research Gracie’s role in a film based on their story.

While “May December” is not directly based on the Letourneau case, it clearly draws inspiration from it, especially in terms of the age gap and the scandalous nature of the relationship. The screenwriter, Samy Burch, mentioned at a New York Film Festival screening that she was intrigued by the tabloid culture of the ‘90s and its connection to the current true-crime boom. Director Todd Haynes and actress Julianne Moore used Mary Kay Letourneau as a reference when developing the character of Gracie, incorporating certain speech patterns and characteristics into her performance.

However, “May December” takes creative liberties and differs from some aspects of the real-life case. For example, Gracie and Joe meet when he starts working at the same pet store as her, whereas Letourneau was Fualaau’s teacher in both second and sixth grade. The location and family structure are also different in the film, with Gracie and Joe living in Savannah, Georgia, and having a set of twins along with another daughter. Additionally, the film portrays Joe as slightly older, having just finished seventh grade when the affair begins, whereas Fualaau was in Letourneau’s sixth-grade class when their relationship started.

Mary Kay Letourneau’s case was a highly publicized scandal in the 1990s, involving a teacher-student relationship that led to criminal charges and eventual marriage. Despite facing legal consequences, Letourneau maintained her love for Fualaau and the two wrote a book about their relationship. They eventually married in 2005 and were married for 14 years before separating in 2019. Letourneau passed away in July 2020 due to cancer.

In summary, “May December” is a fictional film inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau case, exploring similar themes of age gap relationships and the impact of scandalous pasts. While it draws inspiration from the real-life events, it is not a direct retelling of the Letourneau story and introduces its own fictional elements to create a unique narrative.