May December follows Hollywood actor Elizabeth (Portman) as she prepares for a role based on Savannah housewife Gracie (Julianne Moore), known for a notorious tabloid romance that shocked the nation two decades before. As Gracie and her husband, Joe (Charles Melton), get ready to send their youngest two children to college, they find their idyllic lives disrupted as Elizabeth raises uncomfortable questions about their relationship.
The film is a quicksilver portrait of the three characters as layers of denial and deception, both among the trio and within each individual, are gradually, chillingly exposed. That instills “a feeling of wanting the characters to say something truthful,” Burch says, “almost like a horror movie but with honesty.”
Burch spoke with Vogue about growing up next door to tabloid mainstays, marveling at Charles Melton’s star-making turn, and making sure the film’s audiences laugh at the right things. (She also happens to be the screenwriter of Coyote vs. Acme, which recently set off vociferous social media outrage after Warner Bros Discovery initially decided to shelve the movie to get a tax write-off. Burch described the project, based on the 1990 New Yorker humor story, as “a legal thriller for kids” and “a very fun experience that took years.” “It was really wild to get to write for Tweety Bird,” she grinned.)
Vogue: May December may bring to mind for many the Mary Kay Letourneau case of the late 1990s. Did you have a particular interest in tabloid culture from that era?
Samy Burch: I grew up in the ’90, so it was just osmosis. I grew up in West LA, not far from the locations of the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman murders. I would see Monica Lewinsky walking around when she came back to her neighborhood. So there was this weird local-news element. The Simpson trial was a big deal in my house; I was not driven to school the day of the verdict. So that chaos of the moment was part of my childhood. Then the reckoning we’ve had where, one by one, those stories have been mined and relooked at—sometimes for the better, sometimes not—has been very interesting to me
You’ve said the character of Joe was your starting point. Why did you want to explore his experience?