Josephine Decker, USA
There is a very peculiar, frumpy, hideous lady living mostly upstairs in a manor in North Bennington, Vermont in the 1950s. She is the horror/mystery author Shirley Jackson (Elizabeth Moss) who rose to fame writing the short story “The Lottery”, a gruesome tale about small town depravity published in the New Yorker. She hasn’t wanted to get out of bed for weeks. Her equally devoted and equally philandering husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a literature professor at the nearby college. He has hired the young and over-eager Fred (Logan Lerman) to be his assistant. Newly-wed Fred is accompanied by his blushing bride Rose (Odessa Young). She has given up her studies to elope with her handsome beau, pregnant and well on her way to becoming the perfect housewife.
Then Rose meets Shirley.
Rose, who initially had been delighted to meet the famous author, begins to recoil when she is insulted and treated as a despicable intruder. Undeterred Stanley pleads with the young couple to move into the manor to help look after Shirley who is somewhere between madness and her next book. Shirley is not a pretty sight, a depressed slob, spread out on her bed, a cigarette in her hand. Little by little the two very unlike women form a deep friendship, one with erotic dimensions as well. It becomes clear to Shirley that Rose is not the one dimensional wifey her husband would like her to be. Not that he would notice, he spends far much too much time at the nebulous “Shakespeare Society”.
This film is an imaginary story based on a book by Susan Scarf Merrell. It takes place in the time frame the real Shirley Jackson wrote her acclaimed gothic horror novel The Haunting of Hill House. Living with Stanley and Shirley is no picnic. Fred and Rose are both fawned over and skewered, much like the young couple in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Unlike Nick, there is no way Fred could muster up the stuff to sleep with Shirley. (Shirley definitely has no “Sunday chapel dress” to lure him.) Rose emerges, the opposite of Honey, emboldened, empowered, and with a baby in tow.
SHIRLEYis a brilliant movie if you don’t get too claustrophobic living with Fred and Rose in Stanley and Shirley’s home. The entire cast is brilliant. Odessa Young as Rose certainly holds her own and is perfectly cast as the young, seemingly innocent ingénue. Newcomer Young undoubtedly proves she is an actress with a formidable future. It’s especially difficult to take your eyes off Elizabeth Moss as Shirley; she’s disgusting, cruel, vulnerable, repulsive, and intermittently likeable. But mostly disgusting, cruel, vulnerable and repulsive.