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dickieduvet
 Thread Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
Old 06-13-2004, 04:07 AM
 
Scored: 10
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Default May




Reviewer: Karen
Review Date: April 4, 2004

Released by: Lions Gates
Release date: 7/15/2003
MSRP: $24.98
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



If you can't find a friend, make one. But if a person contemplates going down this road (let alone actually carrying out the task), she must be perpetually lonely, socially withdrawn, a bit eccentric?and great with scissors.

The Story

inline Image May Canady (Angela Bettis) is a cute little girl with an unfortunate cosmetic affliction. Because of a lazy eye, she is forced to wear an eye patch to correct her vision. As anyone who has ever been a child with coke-bottle glasses, braces, or other corrective aids knows, May becomes the brunt of playground snickers and sideways stares, resulting in social isolation and an inability to make friends. In response to her daughter's loneliness, May's mother gives her a carefully preserved (that is, encased in a glass box) handmade doll named Susie to serve as a surrogate friend.

inline Image Fast-forward several years. May is now a petite twentysomething working as a veterinary technician at an animal hospital. Her hobby is sewing, and can make her own clothes. Her lazy eye is corrected through special contacts and eyeglass lenses. However, her insecurity and solitude remains unchanged. May has never had friends of any sort, never mind a boyfriend. The only sexual attention she is privy to comes from her lesbian coworker Polly (Anna Faris), who aggressively pursues her. Her sole companion is her childhood "friend" Susie, the spooky-looking doll with whom May can openly discuss her innermost feelings and desires.

inline Image May's life takes a presumed turn for the better when she captures the eye of Adam (Jeremy Sisto), an auto body mechanic and rabid Dario Argento fan who patronizes the same Laundromat as May. From the moment she first sees Adam, she is consumed with the beauty of his hands. Adam is attracted to May despite (or perhaps because of) her overwhelming shyness and slightly strange propensity for the gorier details of veterinary surgery. However, after a macabre make-out session involving lip biting and blood smearing, Adam quickly realizes that May is perhaps a bit too freaky, even for him. He politely but promptly bails on the budding relationship. May then turns to Polly for some much-needed companionship, but experiences dismay all over again when, the next day, she finds that Polly has already hooked up with a new "gal pal", the leggy blond Ambrosia (Nichole Hiltz). After two failed connection attempts, May's fragile self-esteem cannot take any more damaging blows. She has a hard enough time making friends, and subsequently cannot keep them once a tenuous relationship has been established. Thus, she relies on her mother's old axiom: if you can't find a friend?make one. In May's case, this entails taking the best parts of her acquaintances - literally - and piecing them together using needles and thread. The result? The perfect friend.

inline Image There is much to say about May because I was so pleasantly surprised by this little film. For starters, it is an offbeat, sad, and uniquely dramatic take on the old Frankenstein story. May is a talented seamstress rather than a mad scientist, but her desperate sociopathy springs from the same well as Victor Frankenstein's delusions of grandeur. That said, be aware that May is not an all-out horror movie, but rather an art house character study that delves into physical gore but never the fantastic (notwithstanding the haunting closing shot, which can be easily explained through non-metaphysical means). The standard horror elements of the story emerge only after May's breakdown, and that is when you will find the requisite severed limbs. Otherwise, May is a film as quiet and demure as its title character that becomes emboldened only when she does.

inline Image Whether you are a social tool or part of the in crowd, it is hard not to empathize with poor, sweet, weird May. I attribute this in large part to Angela Bettis' extraordinary performance, which encompasses so many emotional nuances: insecurity, loneliness, sadness, grief, infatuation, confusion, giddy happiness, confidence, anger?and madness. We feel for this pitiable, meek girl with the shy smile and wispy voice who lacks the self-confidence to open up and experience life, as much as she wants to. (And can we blame her? Her first forays into grown-up society are fraught with heartbreak!) We ache with her solitude because we know what it's like feel alone. We cringe along with her when she leaves Adam a timid, rambling voice message thanking him for their date and inquiring about a second one because we've all been there. And we suffer the crushing blow of his ultimate rejection because we've all experienced that, too. I commend Angela Bettis for her outstanding ability to transmit all of these emotions with such conviction that the audience cannot help but feel.

inline Image May's personality swings to extremes - there is no happy medium. She is so exceedingly introverted in her initial encounters with Adam that we wonder why he didn't write her off immediately. She can barely eke out a sentence, her eyes are turned down in subservience, and her innocent, bashful grin almost makes her seem simpleminded at times. May is an oddly attractive girl, but her mousy, girlish demeanor makes Carrie White seem as outgoing as one of the Hilton sisters. Conversely, when May "snaps", her voice deepens, her posture straightens and becomes purposeful, and her gaze sharpens so much so that she should have been rendered nearly unrecognizable to the few people who know her. Instead, her body and soul makeover goes largely unheralded. It is a drastic character transformation. But once again, Bettis's superb performance carries the abrupt personality switch admirably, diminishing this complaint to only a minor flaw.

inline Image It is subtly implied that May's mother is a bit insecure herself. This is conveyed by her carefully finger-combing young May's hair over her eye patch to make it less conspicuous. She is the one who provides May with Susie, the doll who is to be May's stand-in friend. Unfortunately, this friend is enclosed in a case that prohibits any physical connection. May is Susie - a bit weird looking and shut off from the world. (It is telling that Polly's pet name for May is "doll" and that May assumes Susie's hair, face and clothing when she goes on her harvesting spree.) Each rejection that occurs in May's life is represented by a newly formed crack in Susie's case, bringing Susie (and May) closer to full reveal.

The tentative romance between May and Adam begins and ends with May's fixations on Adam's hands. This personality quirk, while extremely important to the story, was one aspect that I thought was a bit overcooked; as portrayed, the hand fetish only serves to make blatantly obvious which body part Adam will ultimately donate to May's Frankenfriend. Every time Adam's hands enter the frame, her eyes widen and she seems to enter a trancelike state. She gazes fixedly at those hands like a cave man seeing fire for the first time. The character of May is so heartbreakingly real, that this over-the-top reaction is uncomfortably out of place. It makes May seem even weirder than she is - horror movie fan or not, I feel Adam would have run to the hills long before May had the opportunity to disclose any more of her peculiar traits. But, for a short time at least, he is taken with May's cuteness, quirkiness, and ghoulish sense of humor. It is especially charming when May starts to feel comfortable with Adam only after viewing his student film featuring a young couple's romantic picnic in the park, Night of the Living Dead-style. What horror guy wouldn't instantly fall in love with that?

The hand obsession is indicative of a larger shortcoming: May is only drawn to parts of people. Adam has beautiful hands; Polly has a beautiful neck; Ambrosia has beautiful legs. She can't seem to find anyone, including herself, who is perfect or even adequate in their entirety, as evidenced by her park bench lamentation, "So many pretty parts, but no pretty wholes." And an unsightly mole on Polly's hand repulses her, even though the rest of her is gorgeous. But despite all her psychological imperfections, May is a likeable and sympathetic character. Her sheepishness and timidity make her pathetic in the same way as a malnourished pound puppy - you just want to take her home, fatten her up and tell her everything is going to be okay.

In May, rookie writer/director Lucky McKee has created a haunting, unforgettable story - not quite a horror film, not quite a psychological thriller, not quite a drama or black comedy, but a fusion of the best qualities of all four. McKee populates his film with images both beautiful and disturbing and peppers it with a Danny Elfman meets Charles Band score and appropriately placed punk/Goth music. He shows great restraint with subject matter that could have potentially spiraled down into hokum, toying with the horror genre but never immersing us in it entirely. Susie, as unsettling a doll as she is, never talks or comes to life. May only takes parts from the people we expect her to; she never goes on a Carrie-like rampage, killing everyone in sight. That is what makes May more disquieting and memorable than many lesser, more blatant attempts at pure horror. It is clear from the beginning that May will inevitably succumb to her dormant insanity. Nevertheless, you pull for her the same way you pulled for Norman Bates - another shy, sweet psycho.

Image Quality

May is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Wow! This is one stunningly beautiful movie. Right from the opening shot, you will enjoy a crisp, clean, bright picture with no grain and perfect color saturation. This is why we all switched over to the DVD format, folks. Excellent transfer.

Sound

The experience of viewing May is enhanced by 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Dialogue, music and sound effects are clear with great tone. The film is very dialogue heavy, so the rear speakers get very little use. When they do, though, the sound is clear and enhances the overall effect. There is great sound balancing - the musical soundtrack never overpowers the dialogue and vice versa. The sound is just one more nice aspect of this DVD.

Supplemental Material

inline Image The most significant features available on this disc are the two audio commentaries. The first is a cast and crew commentary, featuring director Lucky McKee, Angela Bettis, director of photography Steve Yedlin and editor Chris Sivertson. Also putting in their two cents is a couple of very minor supporting players: Nichole Hiltz (Ambrosia) and Bret Roberts, who portrayed - and I quote - "Distraught Man in Vet's Office". (He must be a good friend of the director's - there is no other reason for him to be included in the commentary track, as he is on screen for all of 30 seconds.) McKee and Sivertson do most of the talking here, and they provide lots of great production anecdotes and trivia. For example, the ophthalmologist who fits may with her corrective lens is McKee's dad, and the book we see Adam reading in a coffee shop scene is Art of Darkness: The Cinema of Dario Argento. I noticed that McKee repeatedly pointed out scenes he dislikes because he feels they are pointless. Strange?you would think that for such a small film he would have retained some modicum of creative control. Cinematographer Steve Yedlin's voice is noticeably absent, prompting McKee to proclaim at one point: "[Yedlin] is here, I swear!" Regrettably, Angela Bettis does not contribute very much to the conversation. That is truly a shame, because it is her riveting performance that made this film truly terrific. Hiltz and Roberts, disproportionately with the size of their roles, are much more chatty and fun to listen to.

The second track is a production commentary. Lucky McKee is back, and this time he's brought along composer Jaye Barnes-Luckett, production designer Leslie Keel, (another) editor Rian Johnson, and - again, I'm not kidding here - Benji the craft services guy. This commentary is very spirited, with everyone jumping in to reminisce and contribute bits of interesting info. We learn here that the creepy doll Susie was supposed to look like Angela Bettis but instead turned out bearing an uncanny resemblance to Keel. Interestingly, McKee also points out that his direct influence for May was not Carrie or Frankenstein, but rather Taxi Driver. At first I didn't get it, but then he explained how both May and Travis Bickle are characters whose actions are misinterpreted by others; they truly don't understand that the things they do are weird or wrong, so we feel sad for them. To illustrate, he compared the scene with May biting Adam's lip and smearing the blood down her neck to the scene in Taxi Driver when Travis takes Betsy to a porn theater on their first date. It's a great analogy, lending even more depth to the story and character.

In short, both commentaries highlight the good rapport between the cast and crew of this movie. This group of young filmmakers obviously enjoys working together.

There is a trailer for May, but it is tricky to find. To access it, you must select the grayed-out Lion's Gate logo at the bottom of the menu screen. I must note that the trailer, while very good, does emphasize the more overtly horrific scenes, most of which occur during the final third of the film. If someone watches this trailer without having read a review first, they might be misled.

Final Thoughts

Great actress, great transfer, great movie. The only audience I can foresee being disappointed in this film is gore hounds looking for a quick payoff. For the rest of you, suspend your full-blown horror movie expectations and hang it there. I promise this DVD is worth your time and money. Lucky McKee is a promising newcomer to the genre, creating a thought-provoking and nice looking film around a story that is truly poignant and sad. He has populated his world with well-drawn supporting characters, brought to life by talented young actors. May had it all wrong - there are pretty wholes, and this movie is one of them .

Rating

Movie - A-
Image Quality - A
Sound - B
Supplements - B-

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • 24 Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles
Supplements
  • Cast & Crew audio commentary
  • Production commentary
  • International trailer

 

 

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