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Shirley (2020)


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Shirley (2020) Review

About the movie Shirley (2020)

Shirley is a 2020 American biographical drama film, directed by Josephine Decker, from a screenplay by Sarah Gubbins, based upon the 2014 novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, which formed a "largely fictional story" around novelist Shirley Jackson's real life during the time period she was writing her 1951 novel Hangsaman. The film stars Elisabeth Moss as Jackson with Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young and Logan Lerman. Martin Scorsese serves as an executive producer.

Shirley had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2020 where Decker won a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Auteur Filmmaking and was released on June 5, 2020, by Neon. The film received positive reviews, with praise for Moss's performance.


Fred and Rose Nemser are newlyweds relocating to Bennington College for Fred's job as a lecturer. Fred is about to work for Stanley Hyman while Rose, still a student, is already enthralled by the work of Stanley's wife, Shirley Jackson, writer of “The Lottery,” the dark short story which shocked readers of The New Yorker Magazine when it was published on June 26, 1948.

Minutes after their first meeting, Shirley asks Rose about her (not yet announced) pregnancy, saying “I’m a witch, didn’t you know?” Soon after, Stanley asks Rose to help with menial jobs around the house because Shirley is struggling to write after yet another bout of agoraphobia. Fred and Rose reluctantly assent and move into the house. Rose realizes that she has unwittingly agreed to serve as the family housekeeper and drudge. She also sees the pathology of Stanley and Shirley's marriage: in his worship of Shirley’s genius as a writer, Stanley enables her drinking and her lethargy; in turn, Shirley tolerates Stanley’s posturing and pomposity, and she winks at his serial affairs.

The Nemsers move into the Jackson-Hyman house. Shirley is deliberately dismissive of and even cruel to Rose, who has apparently given up on her studies in order to manage the household. Shirley begins to write again, announcing a new work based on Paula Jean Welden, a young woman who recently disappeared from Bennington's campus. Stanley is obsessive and controlling about Shirley's writing process; he asserts that she’s a genius, but he wheedles and cajoles her to stay on task. Despite her initial harsh treatment of Rose, Shirley begins to think of the younger woman as somewhat of a muse. Shirley opens up to Rose, having her do research for the new book, including stealing the medical files for Paula Jean Welden. As the two grow closer, Rose falls more and more under Shirley’s spell. She is enraptured by and protective of Shirley. A sexual flirtation builds between them, but is never acknowledged or consummated by the two.

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