Describe This Movie In One Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Quote:
MARTHA: What, you think it was sexy back there? You think he made his own wife sick?
GEORGE: Well, you make *me* sick.
MARTHA: That's different.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Marriage is a horror story of its own.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4 Good Humor men out of 5.
Better Tagline: "It's a Man's Man's Man's World"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Newlywed (and newly pregnant) couple Fred and Rose Nemser (Logan Lerman and Odessa Young) arrive in Bennington, Vermont to stay with Fred's mentor, Professor Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg). Stanley is married to famed horror author Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss), who has her own ideas on making the pair — especially Rose — feel "welcome."
"Critical" Analysis: Shirley takes place during a "good" phase in Shirley Jackson's life, or as close to such a time as ever existed. "The Lottery" had just been published in The New Yorker and anticipation is high for her next work. But while she's not in as ill health as she would be in the final decade of her life, she's still an agoraphobic, chain-smoking alcoholic.
And why not? Husband Stanley may appear to be a charmer at first, but he's also clearly engaging in not-so-dangerous liaisons with various women. Shirley, a razor wit (and successful author, remember) also chafes at the perception she's yet another "faculty wife."
Shirley initially resents Rose for her youth and Stanley's unsubtle attraction to her, and shades her willingness (albeit reluctant) to help with the chores as weakness: "a clean house is evidence of mental inferiority." It's when she enlists Rose as a kind of research assistant for her new book, inspired by the disappearance of a local female student, that things start to turn around.
Shirley is less Gothic horror than psychological drama, and director Josephine Decker uses the background of Jackson's writing (what would eventually become her second novel, Hangsaman) to examine the frustrations she feels, and the depressing universality of her experience.
Rose and Shirley's relationship grows, feeding on their shared, quiet repression. Stanley is a bully, albeit a charismatic one, who nails every woman he can get his hands on. Meanwhile, Fred — derided as "terrifically competent" by Stanley — clearly has little intention of "allowing" Rose to resume her interrupted studies after the baby is born. Worse, he appears to be following in Stanley's adulterous footsteps.
The expression "tour de force" is overused, but there's not much else you can use to describe Moss here. Her Shirley Jackson is vulnerable, spiteful, compassionate, and towering in her rage. It's hard to think of an actor having a better run of recent roles (Her Smell, The Invisible Man, this) ... Joaquin Phoenix, maybe.
Based on the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell, Shirley is above all a meditation on the desperation, both quiet and not so much, that so often marks the lives of women. When Shirley talks to Rose about her unborn child and says, "Let's pray for a boy. The world is too cruel for girls," it's still a punch in the gut. Decker and Merrell know all too well that while the situation has generally improved for women since the middle of the last century, it's hardly what you'd call "good."
Shirley is available on Amazon Prime.
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