Sunday, March 14, 2004

Movies You Really Should Own (and Don’t) Volume 4


(2003, directed by Lucky McKee)
Available on DVD from Lion's Gate Home Entertainment

May is the first certifiable horror classic of the 21st Century.
That's a bold assertion, but one I've made a number of times. Good horror, like good sci fi, tends to be less about scares and more about the human condition. This particular movie is one of the best depictions of the alienation of the awkward and uncomfortable I've ever seen. We've all been the odd man out some time. We've felt out of place. May is about a person who lives every day like that.

May Dove Canady (Angela Bettis) is lonesome and awkward and friendless. She has no one, no social skills and a lazy eye that skews her outlook on the world. She grew up sheltered and was never prepared for adulthood and its pressures. Like many women, she thinks of herself as ugly and imperfect.
The closest thing to a friend she has is a creepy China doll in a glass case that she receieved as a small child.
She lives alone with a collection of less malevolent dolls in her parents' old house. She has great skill as a seamstress, manufacturing her own clothes and sewing up injured animals. She tries to talk to people. She tries to reach out, but all her attempts fail.

May meets a man named Adam Stubbs (Jeremy Sisto) who has a fascination with the strange and unusual. May is strange and unusual, so there's a bit of a spark between the two. Thing is, May doesn't understand the mating dance, doesn't understand human relationships and truly is stranger than the fictions that Adam is enamored of. After a pathetic first date, Adam doesn't want anything to do with her, and May can't understand why.
Her flirtation with Adam is paralleled by a budding friendship with her coworker Polly (Anna Faris), a lesbian who mistakes May's naivetie as an invitation. Polly enjoys the danger of May's preoccupation with pain and death, and chooses May to look after her cat when she can no longer keep it at her apartment.

May doesn't understand rejection, and keeps looking for acceptance from someone...anyone. She volunteers at a school for the blind, hoping they will look past her exterior and love her. No dice. An attempt to introduce her class to her only other friend, her doll, ends with the doll and its case being damaged.

As the doll's condition deteriorates, so does May's. She obsesses over finding a friend to the point where she takes matters into her own hands and sets out to actually make herself a friend in the literal sense of making. The end result is, of course, both horrifying and tragic.
Still, you never lose sympathy for Bettis' broken outsider. You want to protect her. You want to help. But you know you can't. Bettis walks a thin line between strength and broken fragility, between love and madness. Her performance anchors the film and brings unexpected and wonderful pathos to what, in hands less skilled than hers, could have been just another rote horror role. Though she currently seems mired in horror typecasting (she previously played the lead in the TV miniseries adaptation of Steven King's novel Carrie and is the lead in Tobe Hooper's Toolbox Murders), I sincerely hope she gets her hands on some meatier scripts outside of genre film. She's got the chops for bigger things.
McKee's feature debut received only a token release in the theaters, as Lion's Gate opted to push Rob Zombie's crap opus House of 1000 Corpses instead. That's a shame. More people needed to see this movie in the theaters. Thankfully, because of DVD, more people can be exposed to it in the privacy of their own homes. If you haven't seen May yet, it's not just worth a rental. It's a worthy purchase.

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