LFF 2020: Biopic and psychological surreality interweave in Shirley

Rianne Pictures

“It made me feel thrillingly horrible,” Rose (Odessa Young) says to Shirley (Elisabeth Moss) about her latest short story ‘The Lottery’ when they first meet. That line sums up Josephine Decker’s newest feature pretty succinctly. 

Biopic and psychological surreality interweave to tell the story of acclaimed horror writer Shirley Jackson and her college professor husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) when Fred (Logan Lerman), Stanley’s new teaching assistant, and his wife Rose come to stay with them. Stanley asks the young couple to stay with them for longer than originally planned – Shirley and Stanley’s housekeeper just quit and he offers them free bed and board in exchange for looking after the house (“a clean house is a sign of mental inferiority,” Shirley quips). Fred is keen, and Rose reluctantly agrees. What follows is a fascinating study of how four people can get inside each other’s heads and the quiet havoc they can wreak while they’re there.

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