It isn’t often that the editing of a movie is one of the first elements to be singled out for criticism, but that’s the case with “May.” The culprits are Debra Goldfield and Rian Johnson, and thanks to their efforts the picture–a gruesome contemporary black comedy with a “Frankenstein” theme–has virtually no rhythm or pace. Even the montages come across as though they’d been assembled in a malfunctioning blender.
Still, one shouldn’t blame Goldfield and Johnson overmuch. Editors need something decent to work with, after all. And while it’s possible to discern what writer-director Lucky McGee was after–a bizarrely goofy fable of alienation and perverse wish-fulfillment–one must conclude that he’s utterly failed to achieve it. Tone-deaf and structurally flaccid, “May” is little more than a Troma movie with unrealized pretensions. The only laughs it elicits will be those of embarrassment, not enjoyment.
The title character, played by Angela Bettis (who was “Carrie” in the NBC remake of Stephen King’s novel), is a preternaturally shy young woman whose complete lack of the social graces is the result of an unhappy childhood, in which she was ostracized because of her “lazy eye.” Her only friend, it appears, is a hideous doll (looking rather like something out of “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) once given her by her oddball mother (Merle Kennedy). Now on her own, she’s a bundle of tics and repression working in a veterinary hospital; her burning desire is to connect with someone real for a change. As the narrative (loosely conceived) proceeds, she searches for affection from Adam (Jeremy Sisto), a hunky mechanic and would-be moviemaker; Polly (Anna Faris), her lesbian co-worker; and a group of disabled kids whom she volunteers to babysit. When each effort fails, she seizes on the advice her mother gave her long ago: “If you need a friend, make one.” She determines literally to construct a flesh-and-blood doll with bits and pieces collected from Adam, Polly, and a few other unfortunate victims. And in a final gesture, she even contributes something of her own.
Perhaps “May” could have worked if carried off with some panache, but McKee flubs every possibility. This sort of material requires very precise stylization–Michael Lehmann’s 1989 “Heathers” had it, for instance, and so did Bob Balaban’s severely underappreciated cannibal comedy “Parents” of the same year–but McKee’s approach could most charitably be described as approximate. His picture exhibits absolutely no visual flair, and it’s miserably constructed: more than an hour of lackadaisical set-up, followed by less than half that in supposedly humorous but merely grisly resolution, all topped off with a final punchline that’s not only ugly but poorly staged. Bettis’ unmodulated, picky performance is a problem, too. In her hands May is an obvious nutcase from the very first, and the sole change she undergoes–to a grim competence in murder and dissection toward the close–is completely implausible. The remainder of the acting ranges from the strenuously overstated (Faris, who’s arch and affected) to the simply dull (Sisto, who seems not to have been let in on the joke) and the abysmally amateurish (James Duval, as a slacker whose arms May comes to covet, and Nichole Hiltz as Polly’s glamorous new significant other, whose “gams” May admires).
When May finally produces her cadaverous new buddy, it’s an ugly, revolting assemblage of tacky parts–rather like the movie Lucky McKee has thrown together. In short, “May” not.