Acclaimed author, Shirley, and her skeptic of a husband, Stanley, are the type of pseudo-intellectuals that many artists nowadays seem to commonly undergo; Shirley being almost like the female version of an incel—minus the sexism—and her husband being the type of “chad” that would worship such masturbatory beliefs as “finding mediocrity to be the true horror of poetic creation.”
Arriving at the palms of this oddball of a marriage, considering their placement in a dully average 1950s time period, is a college-aged couple that has temporarily moved into their house, one of a future mother named Rose and a future teacher named Fred. Rose has become a host for Shirley’s ideas and the center of her new novella, and Shirley is willing to drive Rose to a brink in order to get the creative inspiration that she needs to attain her success. But as the cynical Shirley grows closer to Rose, is it possible for her to begin to feel guilt for using this young lady as the prophecy to her fictional callings or is art always to be the forefront priority of every living tale?
I think what will likely click with viewers the most when it comes to Josephine Decker’s latest feature-length, Shirley, is how it presents the process of a seasoned writer, and how the visual ideas of that writer’s story can be born. To many artists, they must connect with their creation through a practical outlet; they must physically feel that outlet, recognize it, and become invested in the world of it as if it was their very one creation. Shirley seems to be sacrificing real-life relationships for these enriching manners of revelation in her work, but as she becomes more connected to reality with the help of Rose’s company, so does Rose. However, reality can sometimes be at the sacrifice of prosperity, and that appears to be what the incredibly original medium of Shirley is attempting to communicate.
Sure, even when the indie-cliché music gets overbearing or the slightly straightforward screenplay—this time written from the mind of newly endowed collaborator Sarah Gubbins—doesn’t always agree with Decker or cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s beautiful ambition like peas in a pot, Shirley still manages to work on laudably uncharted levels just as the great Madeline’s Madeline had.
Of course, it’s not a 1950s husband and wife lifestyle movie without some acknowledgment of how insufferable it was to be a woman during this era. The movie makes it crystal clear that there were countless women like Rose, who simply weren’t given the opportunity to have a voice in a post-World War II society, and that’s what Shirley intends to write about with Rose in position as her subject. Need I remind you, it seems that the partially “female incel” of an author is unintentionally writing a feminist piece by disrupting a young woman’s life for better or worse. How crazy is that?
“Shirley” is now available to stream on Hulu and rent on Amazon Prime.