2003 - R - 95 Mins.
|Director: Lucky McKee
|Producer: Marius Balchunas and Scott Sturgeon
|Written By: Lucky McKee
|Starring: Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris, James Duval and Nichole Hiltz
|Review by: Bill King
Lion's Gate, the distributor of "May," has given this film a runaround for too long. Last year, Harry Knowles of Ain't-it-Cool-News put this film on his top 10 list for 2002. I've searched high and low to see it, with no luck. The movie was destined for a limited release in cities I don't live anywhere near, and a video release wasn't on the horizon. Finally, after all the hesitation, Lion's Gate gave the film its limited release and then shipped it off to video. I was reminded of the kind of treatment "Body Snatchers" received back in 1993, and the result was a great horror film. It's the same scenario all over again.
Why movies like this take a back seat to something like "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" isn't a big mystery. "May" won't make as much money, though it might with the right marketing, which worked for "The Blair Witch Project" (1999). Too bad that Lion's Gate didn't have more confidence in this film, because "May" is a hypnotic piece of work, the real deal, something that reminds us that the movies are a legitimate art form. Lucky McKee, the writer and director, has made a very impressive debut.
The film stars Angela Bettis as May, a lonely girl whose childhood affliction was the cause for her isolation. When she was younger, she was diagnosed with Lazy Eye, and wore an eye patch to school. Other kids thought she looked like a pirate, and that treatment must have lasted a long time. Now, as an adult, May no longer uses the patch, but her lazy eye remains. She works at an animal hospital, assisting the doctor with his operations. The receptionist is Polly (Anna Faris), who usually doesn't understand all the technical terms that May and the doctor use.
May's best friend is a doll that her mother gave her. Sealed in a glass case, the doll stares out ominously, like someone watching from a distance, detached from the action, yet having a direct psychological effect on May. One day, she meets Adam (Jeremy Sisto), a mechanic who, May thinks, has perfect hands. She is shy, and stumbles when she tries to meet him. She gets her lazy eye corrected, and tells her doctor that she has a date, although she has yet to speak with Adam. Eventually, May does meet Adam, in an awkward scene that makes sense given May's desires. The two go out. She tells Adam she is weird, and Adam says he likes weird.
The film starts out as a character study of a lonely young woman, but gradually delves deep into something more. May is seriously disturbed. She talks to her doll; sometimes she screams at it. When May gets too weird for Adam, he leaves her. Meanwhile, Polly becomes excited by May's habits. When May cuts herself, Polly watches in fascination, even after May cuts Polly. She says to do it again. Later, Polly takes their friendship further and wants to make out with her. May lets it happen because the void in her life needs filled, regardless of the sensation she feels.
"May" is not your run-of-the-mill character study. Oh, it's a terrific observational portrait, but the film gradually reveals May's insanity, turning the film into an account of how far one person will sink to make a friend. Things take a frightening turn, and the tension builds up to the final moment, when we start to realize just what May's intentions are, and how she intends to complete her task. The final shot is symbolic, and isn't meant to be taken literally. It is the culmination of May's desires. Finally, she has what she wants.
Angela Bettis is, in a word, brilliant. She portrays May as someone seriously rejected. She has never had a boyfriend. Her body language says so much about her. She's eccentric, but she knows it, and accepts it. Bettis never overplays the part. She comes across so naturally that her performance never makes us into nonbelievers. We understand her downward spiral when it happens. Jeremy Sisto, as Adam, gives a thoughtful performance. He is fascinated by May at first, then repulsed. Adam is smart enough to realize when things are getting too weird even for him.
Lucky McKee's film has bounced around several film festivals, gaining fans and respect along the way. "May" now has the opportunity to prove to Lion's Gate that it made a mistake. This is a great movie, one worthy of exhibition. It combines pain, sadness, comedy and cruelty into an effective little gem.