May, the debut feature of director Lucky McKee, is now a cult classic, and anyone who’s seen it will know how appropriate that status is. It deserves its acclaim: this is a smart, intense, well-acted little movie with a distinct voice and a total commitment to its vision. Its vision is also enjoyably, darkly off-kilter, which means more mainstream success would have been baffling. Like its titular heroine, May isn’t for everyone.
May (Angela Bettis, all stick insect physicality and enormous, expressive eyes) had her childhood shaped by a minor physical quirk: a lazy eye. Her mother, protective but obsessive, primed May to see her eye as a fault that must be hidden–and, to some extent, to see herself the same way. Years later, May’s eyesight has been corrected, but the awkward, brittle loneliness of her childhood remains. She has a job (as a veterinary assistant), but her closest connection is still her glassed-in doll Suzie: she’s so frozen out that she can’t even touch her most beloved possession, let alone another person.
But May tries to change her life. She starts dating Jeremy Sisto’s Adam, a mechanic and aspiring grindhouse auteur who, at first glance, matches her oddball goth vibes: “I do think you’re weird,” Adam confirms to May, before adding, “I like weird.” But May is eventually too weird even for him–and it’s to the film’s complex, uneasy credit that their breakup somehow feels both like a reasonable response and like a sign that he only ever really wanted sanitized weird, Amy Dunne’s (Edgy) Cool Girl. May then takes up with her coworker Polly (Anna Faris), who is cheerful, sexually voracious, and compassionate–but also casually polyamorous, a revelation that, to May, feels like a wrecking ball’s worth of rejection. Angela Bettis plays May like there is no protective shell between her and the outside world at all. She feels everything as intensely and deeply as possible, like all her nerve endings are lighting up at once–as would most of us, if we were this starved for touch and interaction.
When the last string of May’s reality snaps, she seizes on an old lesson from her mother: “If you can’t find a friend, make one.” Literally.
Honestly, when May really kicks into gear as a horror movie, the explicit violence is almost a relief from the constant psychic assault of feeling so absolutely, excruciatingly vulnerable. (Howard David Ingham has an excellent article about May and neurodivergence.) And then McKee’s horror chops, soon to be polished but already obvious, make that sense of relief start to fade. Exploring the vulnerability of the flesh rather than the vulnerability of the heart and mind may be more familiar and easier to take, but there are still bits of this last act that are wonderfully, memorably brutal. This movie just works–if you like weird, that is. No, even weirder than that.
May is streaming on Tubi.