“Shirley” (Neon)

Elisabeth Moss and Odessa Young star in a scene from the movie "Shirley." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. (CNS/courtesy Killer Films)

By Catholic News Service

Working from the fact-based novel by Susan Scarf Merrell, director Josephine Decker and screenwriter Sarah Gubbins deliver a mid-20th-century period drama centered on famed horror writer Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”), played by Elisabeth Moss. Jackson, and her professor husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), who acquire fictitious foils in the form of a young couple, Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman). Rose becomes Jackson’s housekeeper and sometimes nemesis, while Fred engages in heated academic battles with Hyman.

Deliberate parallels to Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” are established as the barbs fly, the cigarettes are chain-smoked and the bourbon flows freely. There’s also a tinge of the gothic as Rose becomes identified with the main character in the novel Jackson is slowly and painfully writing, 1951’s “Hangsaman.” Those who enjoy literary arguments will get them. Those looking for clear moral messages will be out in the fog.

Occult themes, two brief scenes of marital lovemaking, one of them in a sordid setting, glimpses of upper female nudity, references to suicide, fleeting rough and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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