Elisabeth Moss continues to expand her range as this cantankerous horror writer (based on Shirley Jackson). Her character is smart and verbally vicious, but also immensely troubled. When a young couple moves into their house, unusual things happen in several directions. This is primarily an exercise in putting complex characters in uncomfortable situations. As the relationships evolve, the drama abounds.
Biopics about writers can be difficult to make cinematic because the writing process is so internal. While Shirley is about the writer and the writing process, it is hardly a biopic in the normal sense. The film focuses on a young couple who move to the Vermont college town where Shirley and her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg), live. The young husband, Fred (Logan Lerman), has a position as Stanley’s assistant, and the wife, Rose (Odette Young), plans to audit some courses at the school, but her plans change as Stanley needs someone to manage the home because Shirley cannot. The couple plans to stay with Stanley and Shirley temporarily until they find their own place. As Shirley’s eccentric madness fills the home as she begins to work on her new novel, thrills ensue and consume Rose.
Director Josephine Decker has created moods and people who are sometimes compelling and other times just frustrating. This film was given the thriller tag, and it is hard to know why. There were plenty of scenes that just seemed to drag out, and for no good reason. When there are that many moments that don’t see to give the plot any significance it is hard to stay captivated. This can be forgiven in some sections, as there are some visually stunning scenes with muted yet effective colours. There is a focus on the relationships between the husbands and wives that deteriorate due to selfishness and mistrust. The film depicts how that relationship can affect mental health, which becomes more important as the film moves along. The connection between Shirley’s writing and her mental state permeates the movie and affect the characters in interesting ways.
Shirley is a film that has ambition and talent but none of that fits in the best way but it could’ve been a much more disappointing film, it’s far from what was expected due to the good reviews it received.