Shirley is a spellbinding experience, full of continuous camera techniques, an impressive cast, and a story that will fester under people's skin.
Shirley is not a movie for everyone, but it's an intriguing film and one that you cannot shake afterward. Upheld by the talented cast (Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman), Shirley's boundary bending mechanisms will rattle your bones. This approach was uncanny, yet all the more mesmerizing. Understandably, this approach may not be for every viewer — leaving one in a hypnotic state of mind. Shirley feels dreamlike frame after frame, as we unravel the mind of the great horror writer, Shirley Jackson. Directed by Josephine Decker (Madeline's Madeline), we feel the chills of this film's inner self shiver through our soul. Shirley follows a young, newlywed couple (a powerful Young and a persuasive Lerman) who are invited to stay with the Jackson's — in hopes of starting a new life and to be mentored by them. Shirley Jackson (a masterclass Moss) is a renowned horror author, who's at the start of writing a new novel. Jackson was known for her short story extravaganza — including powerful pieces like "Charles," Mademoiselle, July 1948, or "The Lottery," The New Yorker, June 26, 1948.
Where to begin with Mrs. Jackson, a kingpin for horror, mystery, and Gothic writing — she was also an inspiration to many future writers, like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Sarah Waters, Nigel Kneale, Claire Fuller, Joanne Harris, and Richard Matheson. Mrs. Jackson was married to an American literary critic named Stanley Edgar Hyman (a never better Stuhlbarg). Hyman taught at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, and did not believe in a monogamous relationship. During their marriage, Hyman was adulterous, notably with his students, and Jackson reluctantly agreed to his proposition of maintaining an open relationship. I cannot imagine the emotional toll this must have caused Mrs. Jackson — Decker perfectly executes this tension between Jackson and Hyman in the film. We see Hyman make advances to Rose (Young), as she deflects and retreats to Jackson for sanctuary. Jackson's physical and emotional health spirals in and out throughout the movie, as she desperately tries to finish her new novel. Hyman's verbal cues don't help either, as he's critiquing her on everything thing she does — written and non-written.
Like Shirley's mind, the film's camerawork is a continuous motion, zigzagging throughout every scene. To me, this was a representation of Shirley's emotional health. There's one still shot at the very end of the film where Shirley has finally completed her novel. The stillness in this shot represented Shirley finally being at peace with herself. The cinematography is shot like a dreamlike sequence — exemplified through bright outside colors and hazy inside colors. Shirley is a biopic that forgoes normal film structures, keeping the audience on edge. I would not say I loved Shirley, but I deeply admire this kind of filmmaking. On top of all this, we are granted with another superb performance by Elisabeth Moss — through rage, fearlessness, and acute attention to detail, Moss delivers another Oscar-worthy performance. She's at the top of her game and nothing will stop her. While Stuhlbarg delivers another flawless supporting role. Known for films like Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water, Arrival, and Hugo, Stuhlbarg continues his impressive film resume. Shirley is a wild film about a legendary writer, who composed six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories over a period of two decades. Shirley is a movie that will creep inside your bones and stay there until the end of time.
Shirley is rated R (Restricted). For sexual content, nudity, language and brief disturbing images.
Directed by Josephine Decker
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman.
Available to watch on Hulu.
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