DIRECTOR: Josephine Decker (mosaic, madeline's madeline)
STARRING: elisabeth moss, odessa young, michael stuhlbarg and logan lerman
REVIEWER: nick tonkin
A famous horror writer finds inspiration for her next book after she and her husband take in a young couple.
Shirley was directed by Josephine Decker and is a biographical drama set in a period of time relating to the life of famed author Shirley Jackson. Shirley lives an isolated, reclusive life in her home with her husband Stanley, a notable literary critic with a position at the nearby University. The film, however, is mostly presented from the point of view of Rose, the young new wife of Fred, who is Stanley’s new teaching assistant.
Having just arrived in town prior to the semester’s start, Stanley invites the young couple to stay until they get settled in and have time to look for a home of their own. Shirley takes no time at all to poke and prod her new young houseguests, getting under their skin and especially frustrating poor Rose, who struggles to maintain an air of civility and respectfulness - but this facade cracks entirely when Shirley mercilessly probes the couple about their unannounced pregnancy and the timing of the baby’s due date in relation to their wedding.
Rose’s anxiety about her relationship with Fred and uncertainty about his true feelings with respect to the pregnancy and their marriage, to Rose’s mortification, have been set on display for Shirley and her judgement. However, Shirley surprises Rose by not doubling down, instead providing some sympathy for her predicament. This is the start of a peculiar relationship between the two women, one that sees, amongst other things, the birth of Rose’s baby and Shirley’s completion of the novel that would be considered her masterpiece.
Shirley is an engaging and at times unsettling drama, propelled by both an absorbing performance from Elizabeth Moss as Shirley and an excellent turn by Odessa Young as Rose. These two actors convincingly explore the increasingly insular relationship between the two characters; the benefits they have afforded each other, and the costs that have come with the relationship.
Screenwriter Sarah Gubbins has crafted a story that allows for interpretation of the impact of the relationship between the two women, deftly set out by Decker in the film’s denouement in a manner which will keep you thinking on its meaning and result.
Shirley is an impressive, engaging and at times unsettling film with absorbing performances from Elizabeth Moss and Odessa Young.