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Shirley Jackson was a real person, a writer best known for her twisted short story “The Lottery,” although the version presented in Josephine Decker’s “Shirley” feels more like a character from one of her own novels. Featuring “The Handsmaid’s Tale” actor Elisabeth Moss in the title role, this queer, hard-to-quantify psychological study isn’t a biopic so much as a séance — a quasi-occult attempt to invoke the spirit of such a singular author, who reinvented a genre before her death half a century ago, via a film that seeks to channel her unsettling style.
If Jackson’s gift was to burrow her way into those corners of the brain one typically keeps under lock and key, then Decker seems like pretty much the ideal director to find the cinematic equivalent — and I say this as someone who’s had an almost allergic reaction to her brand of indie-movie doodles until this point. “Shirley’s” what we might call “a real movie,” even though it’s sure to confound that segment of the filmgoing public who likes their mysteries with no loose ends. By contrast, this is an itchy sweater that’s unraveling as you watch it, thanks in large part to Moss’s wild-eyed turn as the tortured genius.
Decker - ? - Stories - Midcentury - Shrinks
Decker — who’s been repeatedly drawn to experimental, semi-hallucinatory stories of what misogynistic midcentury shrinks once dubbed “hysteria” — has been doing this kind of subconsciousness spelunking with all her features, most recently in the funhouse maze that was “Madeline’s Madeline.” Whereas those slippery, deconstructivist thrillers felt as if they had been cobbled together in editing, “Shirley” benefits from Decker’s fragmented, broken-mirror approach, as well as the fact Sarah Gubbins wrote such a great script (adapted from Susan Scarf Merrell’s 2014 novel) to use as her template. So, rather than presenting another puzzle with important pieces missing, with...
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