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I don't know that this film merits a bunch o' discussion, but I did want to pop in and say I'm relieved to read Joel's and Ken's reviews, and that they were equally underwhelmed.  Nice to know I'm not completely off the mark, since it has only 4 splats out of 30 among RT's Top Critics.

What a disappointment, after loving Decker's previous film, Madeline's Madeline.  I guess I'll go ahead and link to my review: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2020/06/shirley-have-an-aesthetically-splendid-time-with-four-awful-people/

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa


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I've seen only one other Josephine Decker movie, Madeline's Madeline, which was among the best movies of its year. I'd heard mixed things about Decker's follow-up, but enticed by the low price point - could've sworn it was $1.99, but Prime gave me only the $2.99 HD option, which was fine - I watched Shirley last night.

I'm mixed on the film. Decker's camerawork held me throughout, but the story didn't strike me as particularly meaningful. I generally trust storytellers - it's rather rare for me to find myself wondering, while watching a movie, "What's the point, exactly?" But that's what I was asking myself during the story's second half. I never really bought Stuhlbarg's character, and he seems key to the whole thing, doesn't he? 

I read Richard Brody's review (a rave) after the film, and rather than nodding in agreement or at least finding myself challenged to rethink what I'd seen, just sort of shook my head throughout. Not in fervent disagreement, but more in puzzlement. Perhaps I just missed Decker's intent, but Shirley is one of those films that, while it started strong (I was surprised at how frankly sexual this story is, which may mean I wasn't ready for the points Decker wanted to make), got less interesting as it went. I hate it when that happens. I just stopped caring, even though those camera angles and performances kept me watching.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I didn't like Madelne's Madeline. 

Shirley, by contrast, is my favorite film of 2020 at the halfway point.

My review is up at Looking Closer. 

Edited by Overstreet



Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.


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  • 5 months later...

Just watched this last night. Count me as one of those with a mixed impression of it. My thoughts from Letterboxd:


Feels a bit ungenerous to Shirley Jackson to portray the years around her artistic breakthrough as cut from the same cloth as her later decline, when barbiturates and alcohol pummelled her mind and heart into submission. Also feels reductive to ascribe so much of her mental ailments to repressed psychosexual urges and a philandering husband's lack of affection. I get that the film and the novel it's based on are trying to convey Jackson's artistic spirit more than her biographical fact, but to erase the entire domestic sphere of her life from this portrayal of her as an artist feels wrong. She ran a household, cooked for the family, and mothered four children in addition to financially supporting her husband through her excellent writing, all while struggling with substance abuse and mental illness. I am not sure how that is less dramatic than what we get here, where she seems to be a barely-functional human being who just so happens to write great fiction at a cost to her own sanity. Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg are very good as ever, but I'm not buying the approach.

I didn't passionately dislike it or anything, but if you're going to stray so clearly from the biographical fact, I expect you to do so in order to make the historical individual more interesting, not less. This is a case where I think it flattens Shirley as a character instead of digging into what made her so conflicted and interesting.

"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film." - Werner Herzog


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  • 2 weeks later...

I wish this film had been made as a study of four complicated people in their situations, rather than a fictionalized biopic of Shirley Jackson. It sounds as if it doesn't particularly add anything to our understanding of her writings. The book it was based on might, but I still find biographical criticism the least valuable form of literary criticism.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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