From executive producer Martin Scorsese and the director of Madeline's Madeline comes Shirley. This biographical drama film directed by Josephine Decker, written by Sarah Gubbins, and based upon the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell. Renowned horror writer Shirley Jackson is on the precipice of writing her masterpiece when the arrival of newlyweds upends her meticulous routine and heightens tensions in her already tempestuous relationship with her philandering husband. The middle-aged couple, prone to ruthless barbs and copious afternoon cocktails, begins to toy mercilessly with the naïve young couple at their door.
In mid May 2018, an adaptation of Merrell's novel by Gubbins was announced with Decker to direct and Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg to star as Shirley Jackson and Stanley Hyman, respectively. By late July, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman, Victoria Pedretti, and Robert Wuhl rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place in Jefferson Heights and Poughkeepsie, New York.
The film stars Moss, in the title role, Stuhlbarg, Young, Lerman, Pedretti, and Wuhl. Thanks to the cast, led by the amazingly versatile Moss, the film is a well-acted low-budget aesthetic one that might impress even if seemingly going the mumblecore route without any easy solutions to the problems it raises
On the surface, the film is an uncompromising portrait of a troubled woman who finds sanctuary in a troubled writer. But, look deeper, it provides self-aware commentary about the acting process itself. The film is not a statement but a fiercely curious exploration of the dense relationships between artist and viewer, art and life, story and teller, and the different ways we perform ourselves every day. The entire film is an exercise in immersion. This could be off-putting to those less adventurous among us, but if you're brave enough to stick with the film into its second act, Decker delivers something quite impressive amidst the chaos. This really is a superbly made film. The sound design is really fantastic and quite disturbing in a way. It takes a while as a viewer to find its rhythm, but once you do you'll be with it the whole way. There's no getting away from the fact that it's a Marmite film, but love it or loathe it, Moss' performance as Shirley Jackson is phenomenal and award worthy. A quietly radical film about who has the right to tell what story, one that cuts seamlessly between its three excellent female leads' points of view. An honest exploration of the brutality inherent when uneven power dynamics in close relationships reach their breaking points. Is it fair to ask someone to traumatise (or retraumatise) themselves for the sake of art? Rather boldly, it seems as though Decker is also asking the question of herself. With her fourth feature film, Decker is cementing herself as an irreplaceable voice in contemporary independent filmmaking. Decker hones in on a seminal time in the development of a young woman's identity; as Rose filters out the noise, she finds her soul through Shirley.