Film Review – Shirley


Fantasy Island didn’t work out as a scary movie, so now it’s time to try Married with Children – except with a tweedy atmosphere that lends a literary twist. That’s how we get Elisabeth Moss as acclaimed horror writer Shirley Jackson, who we meet while she’s exchanging barbed witticisms with her lecherous professor husband. Those are real characters, of course. The impressionable new newlyweds are a fictional creation, with aspiring professor Fred and his young wife Rose duped into moving in with the couple because Stanley wants a housekeeper to help out his lazy wife who doesn’t get out of bed. Moss does a painfully fine job of transforming herself into the dowdy author, who was probably a truly miserable person in her private life. Shirley still had to be more interesting than the woman scripted here as a neurotic New Ager who should be writing in the Erotic Werewolf genre. The screenplay also doesn’t know what to do with its titular figure once the high concept is established. The story has droned on for 40 minutes before Rose starts to help Shirley work on a book based on the mystery of a missing college student. (The novel would become 1951’s Hangsaman.) That attempt at a plot is then abandoned for a long stretch of drama covering politics in academia, plus nonsensical scenes that play like amateur lesbian erotica made for YouTube instead of Pornhub. The final spooky message seems to be that feminism is a transmittable virus that can quickly turn a sexually liberated young woman into a bitter old hag. That’s not what viewers might expect from something produced, directed and written by women – with Susan Scarf Merrell adapting her own novel. You’d expect that from a film produced by NO MA’AM Studios, though.