A famous horror writer finds inspiration for her next book after she and her husband take in a young couple.
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Logan Lerman, Odessa Young, and Michael Stuhlberg
Directed by: Josephine Decker
Written by: Sarah Gubbins, and Susan Scarf Merrell
Not being the most well versed person on horror authors, it didn’t dawn on me that Shirley (Elisabeth Moss) is supposed to be the American writer Shirley Jackson. While apparently I could have used a biography this turns out to be more of a biopic creating a weird and creepy story about her life. Actually it turns out to be as much about the young couple that moves in with Shirley and her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlberg). All of their lives will be forever changed for the good and bad after this experience.
While the film is entitled “Shirley,” this is very much about the two couples, and even more the relationship between Rose (Odessa Young) and Shirley. It starts with Rose and Fred (Logan Lerman) moving into the house because Fred has taken a teacher’s assistant job under Stanley. Rose happens to be a big fan of Shirley’s work so she’s excited to meet her. She might be disappointed at first, as Shirley is a little strange, and very particular about things. The gentlemen work together, and soon enough Rose gets unexpectedly tasked with helping Shirley around the house.
It’s an up and down relationship for the two, as Rose learns to deal with Shirley’s moods, and strange behavior. While their relationship grows, Rose does some growing of her own. She learns a lot about being a young wife from a woman who has her own issues with her husband. Stanley respects Shirley for her work, but seems very controlling at times. Shirley might act like she doesn’t know what her husband is up to behind the scenes, but she’s very much aware.
Shirley is a horror writer so where’s the horror in this story? Well there’s not a whole lot of it until almost the end of the movie, and where it leaves the characters. There’s mention of the book that Shirley is working on, and some missing girls. Instead this is very much about the development of these characters both as individuals, and with each other. It’s about the imagery that’s created for the audience while these lives are pieced together. It’s a little bit of a slow burner, but something about it holds the audience’s attention all the way through.
That something is most likely the fabulous performances by this cast. Elisabeth was a big reason for the success of “The Invisible Man,” and will be winning over more fans in this one. There’s nothing to dislike about what she brings to this odd character, and her story. Odessa might get as much screen time as Elisabeth, and does a great job keeping up with her. Her character seems like she’s always reacting and changing to what’s going on around her, and Odessa doesn’t miss a beat. She’s especially strong in the final scenes, and putting a punctation on her character’s story.
As for the guys, Michael definitely stands out. He’s does a good job playing Mr. Nice Guy, but very smoothly gets everyone to do what he wants. The audience might want to hate him, but he won’t make that too easy. For Logan, there’s nothing wrong with his performance, but his character kind of gets lost in the shuffle. He’s the reason they’re there and they stay, but his real performance doesn’t get to show until later in the movie.
Whether the audience knows who Shirley Jackson is or not probably won’t play a role in liking the film. This version of Shirley is a very particular person, especially when she tries to focus on writing. Both Shirley and her husband use the couple that comes to live with them in different ways. It certainly changes Rose and her husband, and to a certain degree Shirley as well. The characters and performances will keep the audience’s eyes on the film while they try to figure out what’s ultimately happening here. With that, I’m glad I’m not staying with Shirley, but will give “Shirley” 3 pools of blood.
More info about the film at: http://promotehorror.com/2020/05/11/official-trailer-for-shirley/