Josephine Decker’s Shirley is a dramatization focusing on renowned horror author Shirley Jackson, a writer as troubled as the very stories that made her infamous. The film catches up with Jackson while she is in the middle of writing her masterpiece. But the arrival of newlyweds quickly upends her meticulous routine and heightens tensions in her already tempestuous relationship with her peculiar husband. The middle-aged couple, prone to drunken stupors and ruthless arguments, wastes no time inflicting psychological warfare on the young lovers.
Easily one of my favorite films of the year, Shirley lays out a beautiful articulation of the human condition that navigates every relationship a person could ever go though within themselves: love, lust, depression, addiction, abuse, complex self delusions and self destructive tendencies. It’s a ruthless, existential gem. Despite a constantly tense atmosphere and the unyieldingly pessimistic attitude of literally everyone, Decker’s directing flourishes as our characters weave through an intricate web that comes across as so distant and yet so warm at the same time. It connects to viewers who are nothing like the ilk of the somewhat unlikable characters they are watching.
We meet overachiever Fred, his wife, the naïve Rose, Stanley who acts as both a friend and foe, and our main character Shirley who’s instability nearly outweighs her brilliance time and time again. It’s an insanity that appears almost contagious the more time Rose and Shirley spend together. The women bond as sisters in misfortune over their lackluster marriages and over the subject of Shirley’s latest novel. “I’m a witch,” Shirley tells her at one point and one can’t help believing her. So, is it real magic or madness at Rose’s expense? Does it even matter?
If you’re looking for a movie that isn’t afraid to give that unbearable feeling and love every minute of it then I implore Shirley Jackson fans and critics alike to check out Shirley. Now available on VOD.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Josephine Decker
Writer(s): Sarah Gubbins (Based on the book written by Susan Scarf Merrell)
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman
Studio/Production Company: NEON/ Killer Films and Los Angeles Media Fund
Run Time: 107 Minutes