CREDIT: NEON

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman

Director: Josephine Decker

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Acid Tongues and Sexual Encounters in Multiple Directions

Release Date: June 5, 2020 (Hulu, On Demand, and Drive-Ins)

When writing a movie review (or a review about anything, really), it is wise to focus on the details that you care about most. So with that in mind, after watching Elisabeth Moss play Shirley Jackson in the Josephine Decker-directed biopic Shirley, I must say: I love the shirts! Shirley favors short-sleeve button-downs, including an absolutely tremendous one with a mallard pattern. The film takes place in Vermont, but you wouldn’t know it from all the exposed forearms. In another context, her sartorial choices could easily fit on a painfully ironic hipster or a dad joke-spewing goofball, but when Shirley wears them, they say, “This is who I am: deal with it. Or don’t. Either way, I’ma do me.”

That vibe of defiance is thick in the air of Shirley, in which the writer and her Bennington College professor husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) “welcome” newlyweds Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose (Odessa Young) as guests into their home. If that setup has you thinking Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, you’re in the right area. If you’re also thinking there might be a heavy influence of Jackson’s most famous works, that, however, is not precisely accurate. There’s no stoning of anyone like in the short story “The Lottery,” nor are there any hints of the supernatural akin to her oft-adapted novel The Haunting of Hill House (save for the ghosts of marital discord). Despite the lack of one-to-one connections, the Jackson home is plenty scary, which Rose and Fred soon discover as they get caught up in a swirling psychosexual adventure.

When it comes to successful visionary movies, they let audiences in on a way of feeling that they fundamentally just get in their psyches (or souls, or hearts, or whatever) without necessarily having to understand the logic of it all. And that’s Shirley for me (and perhaps for some of you as well). I didn’t quite feel that way with Decker’s last film, Madeline’s Madeline, which struck me as a bit too foreign (at least on first viewing) to truly attach to it. But with Shirley, I have the key to open its lock for the cinematic language to feel just right. The psychology of why Stanley feels compelled to torture Fred over his dissertation or why Shirley and a very pregnant Rose find themselves frolicking by the bathtub is not spelled out in concrete terms. Travelling into this abode is like a trip through Hades. It’s pretty exhilarating, at least if you know you’re going to come out eventually. But for those stuck there, it’s a little more exhausting, and my mind will be stuck on them for a while.

Shirley is Recommended If You Like: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Making sarcastic comments at a party, Patterned Short-Sleeve Button-Downs

Grade: 4 out of 5 Typewriters