When we go to see a biographical movie, something is usually apparent. They all seem to look the same. We find out how the person in question became the person they are famous for being. We see their trials and tribulations. We see them hit rock bottom then soar to the top. It's been standard operating procedure for decades, possibly since the beginning of celluloid. There have been good biographical movies, even great biographical movies. Sometimes though, they are plain boring simply because nobody has jumped in to reinvent the formula. Is this a wheel that can't be broken?
"Shirley" proves all of this wrong. "Shirley" is possibly the most original biographical film ever made. Simply because it doesn't follow the typical formula at all. Not even a little bit. It is the story of Shirley Jackson, a popular horror and mystery writer, popular throughout the 50's and 60's, and inspired such writers like Richard Matheson and Stephen King. One of her most popular books was "The Haunting of Hill House." It could be easy to make a Greatest Hits CD of her life, like these movies typically go. But director Josephine Decker chooses to do something else. She chooses to focus on a certain moment in the life of Shirley Jackson, instead of trying to fit her entire life into two hours. The results are fabulous.
Odessa Young and Logan Lerman play Rose and Fred Nemser, a young couple who are invited by Shirley and her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlberg) to help jumpstart their young life together. What seems helpful and innocent at first turns very strange. Stanley Edgar Hyman in particular seems strange and controlling toward Shirley, showing strange behavior from the very beginning. Shirley is equally weird though, having Rose participate in very odd things around the house. All throughout this movie, you are left wondering, "did this honestly actually happen?" Where Rose and Fred pawns in forming the new novel by Jackson?
I don't dare spoil anything else for you.
Elisabeth Moss has had a really great decade or so. I think people are really starting to see just how special an artist she truly is. She's a woman who can honestly do anything, and she's just starting to warm up I think. Michael Stuhlberg is a guy I think should have the same cred in the business as Tom Hanks. He commits to every role he gets, and he has shown great range in all of his work. He should be so much bigger than he actually is. Lerman and Young also do great supporting work here, bouncing off Moss and Stuhlberg with ease.
"Shirley" will surely give you creeps and delights in equal measure and I think I'd go as far to say its my favorite of the year so far.
FINAL GRADE: A