Friday Film Review--"Shirley"
Writer Shirley Jackson was known for her creepy tales. Now a new film drama based on her life is creepy in a different way, although flawed. Libby Wadman is here with this week’s Friday Film Review.
Hulu is now streaming the biopic, “Shirley”, based on the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell and directed by Josephine Decker.
As a biopic, “Shirley”, is Merrell’s version of Shirley Jackson’s life just after the publication of her famous short story, “The Lottery”.
Rose and Fred Nemser , a newlywed couple, arrive at the Bennington, Vermont, home of Shirley Jackson and her husband, Stanley Hyman, a professor and renowned literary critic. Fred, an aspiring professor, is set to work with Hyman at Bennington College. While Fred and Stanley are working at the college, Rose is relegated to watching over the very moody and depressed Shirley, as she begins to write her novel, “Hangsaman”. That relationship starts our very rocky, but as time goes on, the relationship deepens.
Director Josephine Decker has really focused on experimental films, with her most recent being the 2018 drama, “Madeline’s Madeline”. With “Shirley”, Decker does a beautiful job of creating a creepy world taken right out of one of Jackson’s stories, as well as developing strong performances and chemistry from her cast. Decker has also seamlessly incorporated into this film the issues of women having to fulfill roles expected of them, while suppressing those they really desire.
Elisabeth Moss, as Shirley Jackson and Michael Stuhlbarg, as her husband, Stanley Hyman, are the big standouts. Moss not only eerily captures Jackson physically, but her embodiment of a troubled, struggling personality is Oscar material. Stuhlbarg is all too credible as an egotistical and controlling individual. The viewer will find themselves cringing, and wanting to shrink away, as they watch some of the couple’s interactions.
Odessa Young and Logan Lerman, as Rose and Fred Nemser, are also worth the watch. The four actors have all done an incredible job of creating a tense, creepy and dysfunctional group.
The characterizations of Jackson and her husband and their relationship are very accurate in their representation of the actual couple. The missing girl referred to is also historically accurate. The Nemsers, however, and the events depicted in “Shirley” are creations of the author Sarah Scarf Merrell.
The odd thing about “Shirley” is that despite the superb acting and the atmosphere that will make your skin crawl, there is something lacking in the film that makes it less than the totally engaging film it should be. Instead of feeling inspired, angry or any other emotion a good film provides you as the end credits roll, “Shirley” just leaves the viewer feeling indifferent.
“Shirley” is an interesting, if somewhat disappointing, one hour and 47 minutes in length and is rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and brief disturbing images
This is Libby Wadman with the Friday Film Review reminding you that film is always fun and fascinating.