Shirley movie

Shirley’s outstanding performances capture the imagination

Superbly directed by Josephine Decker, Shirley is an at-times disturbing, part-fiction/part- fact, take on the life of reclusive horror story writer Shirley Jackson.

Focusing on some of Jackson’s real-life exploits and with a fascinating, fictitious subplot, the film is based on ‘Shirley: A Novel’; the acclaimed book by Susan Scarf Merrell.

Although in essence a dark and brooding film, Shirley is lit up by the performance of Elisabeth Moss in the title role.

In an excellent performance that, at times, outshines even her amazing exploits in The Handmaid’s Tale, Moss’s performance is engaging, bizarre and more than a little eccentric.

The chemistry generated between her and supporting actor Rose (sensitively played by Odessa Young) is also at times, electric.

The film is set in a small Vermont college town in the late 1950s and the magnificent scenery – a beautiful backdrop of lush, rolling countryside and rugged woods and mountains – suits the story perfectly.

Shirley is a successful but ‘washed-up’ writer, whose recent, widely-read short story, ‘The Lottery’, was published to much acclaim in the New Yorker.

Having lost her ‘mojo’ after her initial success, Shirley is given a new lease of life when her husband – rambunctious Literature professor Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) – invites his new teaching assistant, Fred (Logan Lerman), along with his beautiful wife Rose, to stay with them.

When the star-struck, young newly-weds move in for a short stay, Shirley is so down in the dumps she can barely get out of bed in the morning.

Such is her disdain for people and the world in general that she never leaves the house and shuns company of any kind.

This all changes when, after a prickly start, the pregnant and compliant Rose slowly becomes Shirley’s closest confidant, with the two of them embarking on a close intellectual and emotional friendship that at times, promises to turn physical, as well.

Without giving too much away, Shirley starts writing again: focusing on a new novel loosely based on the recent disappearance of local university sophomore: 18-year-old Paula Jean Welden.

Although it could be purely circumstantial, there appears to be an interesting connection between the college student’s disappearance and Rose’s arrival in the town, with both Shirley and Rose experiencing some vivid dreams and hallucinations about the young, missing student.

Apart from its surreal and Gothic appearance, accentuated by the sumptuous cinematography, Shirley also provides a fascinating glimpse into the social mores and blinkered attitudes of the people of the time, and especially the conservative elite.

Shirley herself is, of course, very far from conservative, and her sometimes macabre and gruesome behaviour, both real and imagined, serves to test the resolve of even her closest ally; eventually bringing even Rose crashing down to her toxic level.

Shirley is showing at Luna Leederville from Thursday July 9.

Shirley movie
The acting and overall production in Shirley is second to none.

By Mike Peeters

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