Richard speaks to “CTV News at Six” anchor Andria Case about television and movies to watch this weekend, including the screen adaptation of “Hamilton,” the semi-biographical “Shirley,” starring Elisabeth Moss and “American Woman,” a new take on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard and CP24 anchor Leena Latafat have a look at the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the much anticipated small screen version of the big Broadway hit “Hamilton,” the semi-fictional psychological drama of “Shirley” and “American Woman,” loosely based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard sits in on the CTV NewsChannel with host Todd Van Der Heyden to have a look at the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the small screen version of the big Broadway hit “Hamilton,” the semi-fictional psychological drama of “Shirley” and “American Woman,” loosely based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the Disney+ presentation of “Hamilton,” the most popular musicals of recent years, the psychological drama of “Shirley” and the crime thrillers “American Woman” and “Strange But True.”
When reclusive author Shirley Jackson died in 1965 she left behind a body of work, including “The Haunting of Hill House,” a supernatural horror novel sometimes called one of the best ghost stories ever written. An influence on two generations of speculative fiction writers like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Sarah Waters and Richard Matheson, she is brought to vivid life in a new fictionalized drama, now on VOD, starring Elisabeth Moss.
Set just after the publication of “The Lottery,” a controversial short story about the ritual sacrifice of a town citizen to ensure good crops, published in a 1948 issue of The New Yorker, the film sees Shirley (Moss) paralyzed by the expectations that hang heavy over “Hangsaman,” a novel she is struggling to complete. Prickly and quick with a line, she is less than pleased when Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg), her college professor husband, arranges for his new assistant Fred Nemser (Logan Lerman) and his pregnant wife Rose (Odessa Young) to live in their house while the young couple searches for a place of their own.
As the days and weeks stretch into months the relationship between the two couples becomes a blend of art and reality, a claustrophobic rabbit hole where Rose becomes the model for Shirley’s new main character, a college student who went walking on Vermont’s Long Trail hiking route and never returned.
“Shirley” uses elements of Jackson’s life but places them in context of one of her novels. The result is a psychological drama; a haunting look at a person driven to agoraphobia by the weight of her success and a domineering, philandering husband.
Moss is fascinating as the title character. Her take on Shirley is that of a woman who has lived under years of oppression by her bullying husband, a man whose misogyny has left her embittered, desperate and anxious. “To our suffering,” Stanley says as a toast to his wife. “There’s not enough Scotch in the world for that,” Shirley snorts, in a line that could have been borrowed from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” She’s vulnerable and filled with rage, compassionate and spiteful, often in the same scene.
Shirley and Stanley, as compelling as they are as characters, do not comprise the film’s defining relationship. Director Josephine Decker feeds on the psychological aspects of Jackson’s work to tease out a story of Shirley and Rose, two women drawn together by frustration, talent and obsession over the missing woman at the heart of the new novel. “Let’s pray for a boy,” Shirley says to the pregnant Rose, “The world is too cruel for girls.” Their time on screen together is complicated, occasionally unsettling as reality and imagination meld. It’s fascinating work in a film that is a slow burn.
“Shirley” takes its time to get where it is going, building an atmosphere of oppression slowly and carefully. Decker’s distorted dream-like visual approach is often beautiful, as though we’re watching the film through a psychological prism. It creates atmosphere but doesn’t provide the thrills that Jackson herself might have been able to infuse into the telling of this tale.
“Madeline’s Madeline” begins with a nursed telling the audience, “What you are experiencing is just a metaphor.” That sets up the tone for what is to come, a boldly dissociative study of creativity and identity told through the lens of a sixteen year old girl.
The film essays the main people in Madeline’s (Helena Howard) life, with her mother Regina (Miranda July), acting teacher and maternal figure Evangeline (Molly Parker) and, finally, herself as she prepares to be part of an avant grade theatre production.
“Madeline’s Madeline” is a bold film. Madeline’s experiences, both real and imagined, merge creating a dreamy, unsettling pastiche of real life. She is a complicated character, beautifully played by newcomer Howard, with a multi-faceted personality that may be the result of mental illness or in expression of her creative spirit or her troubled relationship with Regina. Director Josephine Decker sets the stage, employing frenetic editing, overwhelming sound design and other experimental film techniques to place the viewer in Madeline’s headspace.
“Madeline’s Madeline” may prove too challenging, too psychedelic for casual viewing. Howard is a powerhouse, careening through the film untethered to the realities of narrative form but the oblique storytelling does the viewer no favours.