Saturday 6 June 2020

Shirley (Movie Review)

After that poor excuse for entertainment I reviewed yesterday, I was in need of some good-natured palate cleansing. Lucky for me, Shirley had also been released on video-on-demand (VOD). The movie made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where it won its director, Josephine Decker, a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Autuer Filmmaking. So, yes, it sounded like just what I needed right now.

The film stars Elisabeth Moss as the eponymous writer, Shirley Jackson. Like most writers of renown, Shirley is considered by many to be very eccentric. She barely steps out of her home, preferring to spend most of days trying to complete her latest work. But after she and her husband, Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg), welcome a young couple into their home, their arrival turns out to be just the spark she needed to get her creative juices flowing again.

On the flip side of the equation are Rose and Fred Nemser, the young couple played by Odessa Young and Logan Lerman respectively. They move in with the wide-eyed ambition of starting a life together in someplace new, with Fred hoping to get tenure at Stanley's university. But things take an unexpected turn after Stanley requests that Rose help look after their home, and by extension, his wife, Shirley.

As far as autobiographical dramas go, Shirley is an unconventional take that succeeds in ways that recent efforts like Capone just couldn't. Much like that other film, it attempts to blur the lines between fact and fiction, even employing literary devices that mirror the kind of stories its protagonist was renowned for. The fact that viewers are never left scratching their heads is a testament to its direction and screenplay, areas where that other movie fell flat.

But none of that would have come across as strongly as it did if it wasn't for the mesmerizing performance at the heart of the movie. Elisabeth Moss might have already proven her acting chops in The Invisible Man, but her performance here is very much deserving of an Academy Award consideration. And she isn't even the only standout, not with Michael Stuhlbarg and Odessa Young serving as capable foils.

It's too early to talk Oscar considerations, especially now that the movie industry is in a state of uncertainty with most theaters still being closed. But when that time comes, I'll be surprised if Elisabeth Moss isn't at least mentioned as one of the frontrunners for Best Actress. But come what may, Shirley contains one of the year's most buzz-worthy performances so far, and it is worth experiencing for that reason alone.


  1. Not my kind of film but glad you finally got to see something decent. Our theaters better be open late July when the big releases start rolling out again.

    1. No word over here about reopening yet, but we should be getting a drive-in pretty soon. Hopefully in time for TENET. Fingers crossed either way.

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