I remember vividly watching Burton and Taylor in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf‘ back in the day and feeling disturbed at these characters behavior, but elated at the brilliance I was witnessing on the screen. That elation was duplicated decades later when I watched Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg as Stanley and Shirley in “Shirley.’
Directed by Josephine Decker, who won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Auteur Filmmaking at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Based on Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel of the same name, this erotic, dark cinematic thriller imagines the life of famous horror author Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) and her husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), as seen through the eyes of Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose (Odessa Young) who come to live with the twisted couple. Stanley intellectually spars in order to maintain academic dominance over his would-be protégé – Fred, while Rose desperately attempts to adjustments to married life while living under the roof of these fiery mind twisting hosts.
Jackson was famously once quoted saying, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality,” perfectly describes the trajectory of these characters who are suffocating each other physically and psychologically to the point of resembling emotional vampires. The film is twisted in the best kind of way and is totally worth the watch due to actors and their spot on performances.
Elisabeth Moss in the title role is masterful portraying characters that are psychologically damaged, yet whip smart to their own detriment. Michael Stuhlbarg as Stanley is the perfect compliment to Moss. Watching the two of them coupled with Lerman and Young is the best master acting class of 2020 on cinema.
The musical score composed by the brilliant Tamar-kali, exquisitely contrast against the action serves as its own character. Very similar to the way he navigated the musical score fo Netflix’s ‘Mudbound.’ As is the cinematography from Sturla Brandth Grøvlen.
Produced by Martin Scorsese, Shirley is streaming now via HULU and in-select drive-in theatres. What do Michael and Elisabeth think about the drive-ins and their on-screen relationship? They clued me in a little during our recent interview.