As England works its way through Lockdown No.2 and the US descends into chaos over the presidential election, it can be difficult to find any respite from the crazy times we live in. It also doesn’t help that cinemas in England are closed again, putting an abrupt halt to any plans you or I might have had to catch a movie over the weekend.
But Curzon Home Cinema is currently presenting a piece of potential escapism, as the streaming platform has recently added the psychological drama, Shirley to its rental service. Directed by Josephine Decker, Shirley is based on the book of the same name by Susan Scarf, and tells a fictional story about writer Shirley Jackson – the author of the supernatural horror, The Haunting of Hill House.
The film focuses on Shirley’s mental state, her relationship with her husband Stanley, and her encounters with a young woman called Rose Nemser. In the movie, Shirley develops a sort-of friendship with Rose, but things take a considerably dark turn in what is an atmospheric picture.
Shirley was released in US cinemas in June, but arrived in the UK on Curzon Home Cinema last Friday. It appeared just in time for Halloween, but rather than view the movie over the big weekend, I decided to sit tight on it until this week, as a welcome distraction from the world.
Did I make the right decision on choosing to watch this movie? I’m not entirely sure.
Shirley is an interesting film, but it is certainly not a light-hearted piece of cinema. As a simple warning, those who are already doing mental backflips right about now might want to shy away from this one.
The first positive thing to note about this film is the performance of lead star Elisabeth Moss, who takes on the title role. Career-wise, Moss is having an excellent 2020 having previously excelled in The Invisible Man and now proving once again that she is a strong screen presence.
Moss is actually the reason I wanted to check this movie out, after I caught a trailer for Shirley a couple of weeks ago. Having adored The Invisible Man in which Moss played the role of lead character/victim, Cecillia Kass, I wanted to see what she could bring to this role – and I wasn’t disappointed.
The rest of the cast of Shirley, Micheal Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman, are also a strong plus point for this picture. Each actor plays an important role in the story, in what becomes an increasingly twisted tale.
But – and this is a significant but – putting the actors to one side, I wasn’t entirely sold on this movie. And this was for two reasons.
Reason one is because although this film plays out as a biographical feature, detailing a period in Shirley Jackson’s life, the film is based on a fictional novel rather than on real events. This means the fact/fiction elements of this movie become blurred, and I never got a firm grasp on what was true to life and what wasn’t.
By the end of the movie I wasn’t really sure who Shirley was. Moss delivered an outstanding performance, but I have no idea if this was even close to how Shirley was as a person, and my only real impression of the author is based on a story that isn’t true.
The second reason the movie didn’t quite work for me is because I found it a little too slow. It looks great, sounds really good, and as already mentioned the cast is excellent, but it never grabbed me in the way I hoped it would and I kept willing it to move along at a quicker pace.
I appreciate this movie is a psychological story, and one which is designed to slowly unwind then partially play out in the mind, but I often found it difficult to connect with the material. At times I could feel my mind wandering in the quieter moments and I am pretty sure this is not the effect the director wanted to create.
Will anything from this movie stay with me beyond today? Other than the cast? I don’t believe so.
I believe Shirley provided me with something to watch for two hours today, and that was certainly a welcome distraction from the madness of current events, but it didn’t deliver much more. There is something good here, but it simmers just below the surface and that’s a huge shame.
If you are interested in seeing Elisabeth Moss in another good role, then Shirley could be for you and you might like to check it out via Curzon Home Cinema. But for everyone else, this is probably one to skip… which sadly leaves you with just the outside world for company.