Tuesday, October 27, 2015

So Many Pretty Parts


May (2002)

MAY (2002): Angela Bettis as May Canady with Suzy

I actually don't know how the feud between Otis Calhoun and that jerk-o family that converts their garage into a Hallelujah House for Halloween got started so I'll have to ask Butch Walker. Butch is Otis's wise-cracking attorney and as such, he stays pretty busy. He knows everything about everybody. He is more aptly described a legal artist as when Otis hurled a flaming jack o' lantern through the Thomas's picture window, he got those charges of arson, destruction of property and felony assault reduced to a fine for burning trash.

He's definitely gotten Marie Janisse out of a fair share of scrapes and is the reason she's a free woman today rather than chillin' in the yard of Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women with her new orange jumpsuit-wearing sorority sisters. Apparently, the folks in Bossier City don't take kindly to someone walking her pet ocelot through downtown in a bikini while she's tripping on LSD, which is actually a pretty common occurrence here. Let's not forget ol' Butch working his legal magic on those charges in Ouachita, Arkansas, which is a pretty bad place to be booked as an accessory to armed robbery and an even worse place to threaten to stab the arresting officer in the face. We're talking time served and probation. The man's a genius.

Butch dresses like John Gotti and his law office is located in between Lurleen's Beauty & Gun Shop and the Laundr-o-Mat so you know it's a class operation. Unlike the other boneheaded law school graduates, Butch didn't waste his time behind a school desk regurgitating good government bullshit and learned everything he knows about the law from his time in juvie. That's stuff they don't teach at Harvard.  That's why Butch knows about money laundering and English-speaking countries that don't extradite to the US and all those nerdsters came out with are theories about legal ethics and dusty cases. Not too bad for a street punk from Marrero, in that strange enchanted place known as Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Say what you will about him, but Butch is hilarious and the only person I know who's more obsessed with movies than I am.

I was going to ask him to go with me to see CRIMSON PEAK, but he has an annoying habit of eating my Kazoozles.  And speaking of the perfect friend, it's time for the sixth film in this 31 Days of Halloween review-a-thon. I'm talkin' about MAY written and directed by LUCKY MCKEE and starring fellow Texas girl ANGELA BETTIS as May Canady; May was ostracized as a little girl for her lazy eye. This was only exacerbated by her perfectionist mother whose solution was to cover the offending eye with an eyepatch. When her daughter had difficulty making friends, May's mother gave her a doll in a glass case named Suzy with the advice, "If you can't find a friend, make one."

MAY (2002): May as a child, isolated on the playground

As a young woman in her twenties, May works as a veterinary assistant in Los Angeles. She spends most of her time alone, sewing her own clothes and collecting dolls. Despite her cool job, cool hobbies, and keen fashion sense (she even owns spectator pumps! The girl is a total fashionista), May is plagued by the insecurities of her childhood. She is nervous, socially awkward and harbors intense fears of rejection. She hopes to find the unconditional love she did not receive from her parents in her search for the "perfect" friend.

She thinks her search is over when she meets Adam (JEREMY SISTO of SIX FEET UNDER), a Dario Argento-obsessed mechanic, who has a "perfect" pair of hands. As someone who deems herself unlovable because of her flawed eye, May fetishizes parts of others. As a horror movie fanatic, Adam is initially intrigued by May's quirkiness. When he shows her his student film featuring a couple that literally devours each other and May snuggles up to him on the couch ("It was sweet," she says. "I don't think he could've gotten his finger off in one bite, though. That part was a bit far-fetched") it could be the beginning of an adorable romance between two misfits. Alas, it is not to be. Adam's weirdness, outside of his affection for Italian horror films, is mostly manufactured. He asks May to tell him the gory details about her job at the animal hospital ("I love gross," he proclaims. "Disgust me, please.") then cannot stomach her story. He shows her his room, a shrine to Dario Argento, declaring "I'm a psycho!" before stabbing her with a prop knife with a retractable blade, but is surprised when May sees this as a romantic gesture. Adam is merely a norm in weirdo armor and he likes the fantasy of weird girls more then the real thing. He might have gotten more sympathy from me if he hadn't handled his break up with May like a self-centered thirteen year-old and if his new girlfriend wasn't such a vacuous bimbo.

MAY (2002): May (Angela Bettis) transfixed by Adam's hands

Heartbroken May seeks comfort in the arms of her flirtatious lesbian co-worker Polly (the hilarious ANNA FARIS), who finds May's strangeness alluring. "I love weird," Polly gushes. But though May admires Polly's lovely neck, she is put off by a large mole on Polly's hand. More upsetting is the fact that even though May is her "main mama," Polly thinks nothing of a fling with Ambrosia, a bar bimbo with the perfect set of gams. Polly is fun, but rebound relationships never work and ultimately she is too flighty too fill May's emotional needs.

MAY (2002): Anna Faris as Polly

Deeply hurt and desperate for human connection, May volunteers at a daycare center for blind children but unfortunately this ends in disaster when she introduces her kids to Suzy.

There's only so much hurt and rejection a sensitive and high-strung young woman can take, and May finally decides to take the night train off to Jeffrey Dahmer-land: since there are only pretty parts and no pretty wholes, she follows her mother's childhood advice: If you can't find a friend, make one.

MAY (2002): May (Angela Bettis) introduces the kids to Suzy

In some ways, MAY is similar to another 31 Days of Halloween review-a-thon favorite MS. 45: both films are undeniably influenced by TAXI DRIVER and the godmother of all female neurosis movies REPULSION, but more importantly, both feature a simultaneous descent into madness and coming-of-age through violence for the female protagonist. Like Thana, May slowly loses her grip on reality (the cracking glass on Suzy's case representing the splintering of her fragile psyche) but madness has the effect of a make-over. As she embarks on her quest to collect the perfect parts to build her perfect friend, May becomes more confident, socially suave and even more beautiful. She's literally dressed to kill as she sets out for murder and mayhem on Halloween night. Through violence, May transforms from rejected, lonely child to proactive woman. Rather then remain a victim, May decides she will simply take what she believes she is entitled to.

MAY (2002): May (Angela Bettis) dressed to kill on Halloween

But are May's needs reasonable? Yes and no. Both Adam's and Polly's actions are self-centered, but May's expectations from her relationships are demanding and unrealistic. Her mother's perfectionism instilled a set of impossible standards in May from an early age.
"Have you ever thought of having this removed?" May asks Polly while examining the mole on Polly's hand.
"My grandmother said it's the imperfections that make you special," Polly answers.
This was the kind of nurturing that May did not receive from her own family. May has never learned to value herself despite her flaws and holds others to the same standard.
"No one's perfect," Adam reminds her, and therefore no one can match up to May's idea of the perfect friend. Not only are her standards impossible, but having never developed any sense of self-worth, May depends entirely on others. In short, her emotional needs are exhausting.
Having come from a chaotic family and also having a perfectionist, highly critical mother, I can empathize with some of the things May struggles with in the film. I also perceived myself as an outsider, feared rejection, and was plagued by insecurities. Like May I was often derided as a "freak" and "weirdo" and searched for the perfect friend who would be my soul twin, completely devoted and loyal. I realize now how selfish this was and because of a set of unrealistic expectations, I was not letting relationships grow and develop naturally.

MAY is also about the superficiality and selfishness that pervades 20th century society. May's search for connection is understandable, but difficult in a world where people are viewed as interchangeable and relationships are largely fleeting and shallow. Both May and the other characters are guilty of a preoccupation with perfect surfaces and a refusal to accept people regardless of their flaws. In our increasingly narcissistic culture, the emphasis seems to be more on conveying the right image of something rather than simply being genuine and on temporary friends that will benefit you in the short-term rather than having a group of dependable, like-minded people with whom you have understanding, accepting and supportive relationships with.

MAY (2002): May (Angela Bettis) sits alone on the bus bench

Regardless of what some stuffed-shirt critics will say about our beloved genre, successful horror films hinge on terrific performances and ANGELA BETTIS carries MAY on her delicate shoulders. Ever tear, twitch, gesture and enigmatic smile is filled with nuance and complexity; her emotional transformation is even more breath-taking to behold when you consider that everything was shot out of sequence rather than building through the progression of events  as you would in a stage performance. She guarantees that even when she frightens us, May has our empathy. There are few horror movie characters I've wanted to hug more than her. It doesn't hurt that she resembles a cross of LYNDA DAY GEORGE (also a Texas girl) and ASIA ARGENTO.

And what about LUCKY MCKEE, the maestro behind this macabre tale? Mr. McKee has made a career out of portraying troubled women, so I think I'm going to have to make him a member of the Descent Into Madness Hall of Fame. His direction is stylish but never intrusive and the saturated visual palate is something to behold. The film is a successful fusion of indie arthouse - with its quirky characters and slick noise soundtrack (this film introduced me to The Breeders) - and horror grindhouse. The film reminds me in many ways of GHOST WORLD with its vibrant colors, sympathy for misfits, and portrayal of an authentic culture replaced by a conformist, superficial one. There is a scene in which May's attempt to befriend a Jujube-eating mohawked stranger (played by GREG ARAKI regular JAMES DUVALL) ends once again in rejection. "You fuckin' freak," he spits, "I'm not gonna be your friend." May bursts into tears, paused only by her eyes falling on a pair of sewing scissors. She suddenly let's out primeval scream of the anger and despair only the truly wounded can feel. As she does so, quick flashes of everything that has brought her to this point are crosscut with the present and finally the aftermath of May calmly smoking a cigarette with a blood-splattered hand. It's the perfect unification of performance, direction, editing and music and I think one of the most powerful moments of the film.

The best examples of the horror genre explore the darkness of the human heart and MAY is no exception in probing the loneliness and voracious emotional needs of its protagonist. Like the cannibalistic lovers in Adam's student film, emotionally starved May will devour those close to her and finally herself in her quest for love and acceptance.

MAY (2002): May (Angela Bettis) smokes a cigarette after her first kill

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