Shirley Jackson is highly regarded in the literary community, but it’s entirely possible that you haven’t heard her name since middle school. The phrase “The Lottery” is probably enough to spark an “oh yeah!” in your mind, as are several other of her iconic tales.
But you don’t really see Jackson portrayed all that often in media: and there’s a reason for that. As it turns out she’s a very complicated individual that requires a lot of nuances to get right. Elizabeth Moss is up to the task in Shirley, even if many more facets of the film aren’t.
The concept is Shirley is easy enough to get across, but it quickly evolves from there. Moss is Shirley Jackson, the aforementioned troubled author, and Michael Stuhlbarg is Stanley Edgar Hyman: her husband. Together these two highly underrated real-life players are a professional power couple, having honed their craft for many years; ready for the spotlight. Watching them interact and bicker is a sight, which you’ll witness often, as Shirley’s framework is akin to a dishevelled play.
The best way to describe the vibe of Shirley is a “slow burn of uneasiness.” A young vibrant couple (almost comedically so) are invited into the jaded Jackson household through an academic connection via Hyman, and the two couples are off to the races. As we see Shirley deteriorate we witness the unhinged cruelty of the Jackson household, which is met in turn by Odessa Young’s Rose and Logan Lerman’s Fred.