‘Shirley’ struggles to connect

Shirley (2020)

Shirley (2020)

Directed by Josephine Decker

Director Josephine Decker’s “Madeline’s Madeline,” in 2016, was an artsy drama that Decker also wrote and edited. It felt like a passion project for the performing artist. Her follow-up, a dramatized biopic of horror writer Shirley Jackson, feels less inspired. Decker had less involvement (the movie was written by two first-timers) and for that reason or another, the story never sucked me in.

Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg in Shirley (2020)

Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) is a deeply troubled person who takes pleasure in getting under people’s skin. She and her husband (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor, take in a new teaching assistant (Logan Lerman) and his wife (Odessa Young) until they can find their own place in their new city. While the men go off to the university, Shirley—once stuck in a bout of writer’s block—starts a new novel with the help of the young woman boarder.

Elisabeth Moss and Odessa Young in Shirley (2020)

Elisabeth Moss doesn’t play her character very well…or maybe it’s just that her character makes herself so unlikable. Sure, there’s something to be said about Shirley being suffocated by the 1950s patriarchy. But still, I wish Shirley had been more relatable. Michael Stuhlbarg is better, but his character is just as dreadful. The only character we might be rooting for is Odessa Young’s Rose, a naïve and pregnant wife who just wants to get a house and start her family. But “Shirley” is an unorthodox film—a biopic that doesn’t teach audiences about its subject, a thriller that barely has a climax, a drama whose characters hardly change. It feels unfinished, like one of Shirley’s books. I wish there had been more there for me to grab on to. I liked the set design, I guess?


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