Lessons in Chemistry - Photo Apple TV+
Lessons in Chemistry – Photo Apple TV+

Looking for something different? Try “Lessons in Chemistry,” based on Bonnie Garmus’s 2022 novel about Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson), a brilliant but solitary scientist who becomes the host of a cooking show, a precursor to Julia Child.

In the 1950s, there were few female chemists, so when Elizabeth Zott was working as a lab tech at the elite Hastings Institute in Los Angeles she was often sexually harassed by male colleagues. But not by the company’s star research scientist, misogynistic Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman), who respects her scientific acumen.

Plus, he also relishes her cooking, since Elizabeth applies the same demanding standards to her culinary skills, having made the same lasagna dish 78 times, tweaking it a bit differently each time until the dish is perfect.

It’s no wonder that these two opinionated, socially awkward people become soulmates. Yet when tragedy strikes, pragmatic Elizabeth finds herself pregnant, jobless and a victim of the prevalent patriarchy. 

When choosing a name for her baby girl, the delivery-room nurse suggests she just “go with what you feel right now,” so Elizabeth names her infant daughter Mad.

As years pass, precocious Mad (Alice Halsey) yearns to learn more about her father while Elizabeth hosts “Supper at Six,” explaining to rapt TV audiences how their choice of ingredients affects the food they serve.

Elizabeth’s mantra is: “Cooking is chemistry and chemistry is life. Your ability to change everything, including yourself starts here.”

Meanwhile, she’s befriended by her activist neighbor Harriet Sloane (Aja Naomi King), who heads a years-long campaign to prevent a freeway extension from decimating their predominantly Black neighborhood known as Sugar Hill.

(Harriet’s subplot skims the historical surface of how Sugar Hill attracted affluent Blacks, like Academy Award-winner Hattie McDaniel and musician Ray Charles.)

That this eight-episode series is also a feast for the eyes is the work of Food Consultant/Chef Courtney McBroom and showrunner Lee Eisenberg.

And it’s a pleasure to see Oscar-winning Brie Larson (“Room”) tackling a more emotionally challenging role than cool, quippy Captain Marvel in “The Marvels.”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Lessons in Chemistry” is an aspirational 8, streaming on Apple TV+.

May-December - Photo Netflix
May-December – Photo Netflix

Do you remember back in 1997 when the tabloids were filled with juicy tidbits about Mary Kay Letourneau, a married schoolteacher who had an affair with a seventh-grade student? Pregnant, she was sentenced to prison and, when she was released, they married and had two more children. Those are the facts.

In “May – December,” filmmaker Todd Haynes has fabricated a story about what their lives might be like 20 years later – when a movie is going to be made about their relationship.

In order to portray the schoolteacher, ambitious TV actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) decides to visit Gracie Atherton (Julianne Moore) and Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), who still live in Savannah, Georgia, surrounded by townsfolk who knew them ‘way back when the nationwide scandal erupted.

Elizabeth arrives at their spacious, waterfront home just as the family is preparing a barbecue to celebrate the high school graduation of their two youngest children,  twins. Joe is now 36, the same age Gracie was when they embarked on their notorious liaison.

What’s bizarre is that – even now – Gracie doesn’t feel she ever did anything wrong. She’s in total denial as she relates how their intimate connection developed, rationalizing: “I was very sheltered and he matured very fast.”

Perhaps Gracie’s ex-husband Tom (D.W. Moffet) best verbalizes the obvious: “What would make a 36 year-old woman have an affair with a seventh grader?” That bewildering question is never answered.

Curiously, as manipulative Elizabeth spends more and more time shadowing Gracie, almost imperceptibly she begins to mirror her voice, manners and expressions. Natalie Portman’s voracious mimicry is what’s most memorable, as is Todd Haynes’ deft utilization of mirrors.

Working from a soapy script by Samy Burch, augmented by Marcelo Zarvos’ score, director Todd Haynes veers toward melodrama, as mild-mannered Korean-American Joe gradually comes to realize that he was not mature enough – back then – to make the kind of decisions that would shape the rest of his life. And during the intervening years, ever-controlling Gracie has continued to infantilize him.

FYI: A May-December romance is one between two people with a considerable age difference. The months symbolize the seasons – with spring representing youth and winter designating old age.

On the Granger Gauge, “May – December” is a sad, sordid 6, streaming on Netflix.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.