Josephine Decker’s ‘Shirley’ Presents Elisabeth Moss as Shirley Jackson in Her Latest Acting Tour de Force

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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

This Is a Movie Review: A Hacker Spurs a Town Into Nightmarish Vengeance in the Uncompromising ‘Assassination Nation’

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CREDIT: NEON

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Joel McHale, Bella Thorne, Bill Skarsgård

Director: Sam Levinson

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Very Bloody Violence, Scandalously Lascivious Behavior, and Casual Drug Use and Profanity

Release Date: September 21, 2018 (Limited)

Assassination Nation paints the picture of what might happen if online rage riots coalesced beyond the screens. A hacker who goes by “Er0str4tus” dumps the personal files of the Salem, Massachusetts mayor, exposing him for the hypocrisy of running as a family values, anti-LGBTQ candidate while he gets up to lascivious behavior with other men. The moral calculus is a lot harder to square when the next data dump victim is the local high school principal, who gets labelled an abuser for having nude photos of his young daughter in the bath. He (justifiably) insists that he has done nothing wrong and refuses to resign, further inciting the mob that the entire town is becoming.

We see the consequences of the hacking play out through the lens of the high school, particularly four tight-knit friends: Lily (Odessa Young), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Bex (Hari Nef), and Em (Abra). They all demonstrate their bona fides when it comes to having a social conscience, Lily especially so. She is wise beyond her years, but angry in a way that belies her youth. She has insightful thoughts about feminism, the male gaze, and just generally treating people with respect. Whenever someone is the target of rage, she considers them fairly and compassionately, recognizing that everyone is a person and contains multitudes. But she is far from perfect, as she is carrying on a rather sleazy emotional affair with her neighbor Nick (Joel McHale), the father of a girl she used to babysit.

When Lily’s secrets are exposed and evidence suggests that she might be behind the hack, she and her friends become the target of the town’s unhinged id, as a full-fledged vengeance-seeking posse takes bloody devastating form. Plenty of women have been threatened with rape and murder for the mistakes that Lily has made (or even milder sins), and the climax of Assassination Nation illustrates how terrifying it would be if a mob of people made good on those promises. While she has transgressed, it is nothing to be killed over, and her attackers correspondingly look insane and inhuman. Ultimately, Lily and her friends are able to fight back in some stylish red leather outfits. It might strain a little credulity that they are suddenly so capable in guerrilla combat, but this film is more feverish than believable, and besides, they have the power of righteousness on their side.

Assassination Nation is Recommended If You Like: The Purge, ’80s John Carpenter, American Horror Story: Cult, South Park Season 20

Grade: 4 out of 5 Red Leather Jackets