The beginning of this movie promises to be a strange biopic. A young woman on a train finishes reading “The Lottery”, telling her husband how an entire town stone one of their own to death. Her husband is horrified, but she’s turned on. In fact, she makes a move on him and they fuck in a bathroom.
Shirley does everything it can to show you that this is not your typical biopic. The blurry-edged trances, dimly lit spaces and fractured editing reflect the mind of its horror writer. There are moments here when Shirley just spaces out muttering to herself.
The cast performances make the horrible characters tolerable. Elizabeth Moss is fittingly troubled as Shirley. Micheal Stuhlbarg is completely punchable as the gaslighting pompous Stanley. Logan Lerman is okay enough. Odessa Young is exceptional as the only decent character Rose.
The movie sadly doesn’t deliver on its promise and proves to be nothing but conventional.
Shirley shies away from the menacing implications of the wickedly co-dependent relationship at the center of the movie.
Stanley’s only intention is to use Fred. “Give him enough rope to hang himself”, says Shirley to her husband as his lackey attempts to further his academic ambitions. Meanwhile, she has developed something of a more than friendship with Rose but it goes unexplored. Clearly, a strange girl and a strange author is a perfect match to bring a horror novel to life.
Instead, Shirley focuses on an incoherent plot of conventional themes – philandering husbands, stifling gender norms of the ’50s, and tacked on empowerment.
Worse, the ending betrays its characters.
Shirley suffers from a common indie problem – a technically well-crafted movie hiding a weak story. Shirley Jackson deserves a biopic. This is not it.
Shirley is a well-acted biopic with dreamlike visuals but doesn't have an engaging and provocative narrative that befits its central figure.