Shirley Adams

Shirley Adams opens in a poor Cape Town apartment, with the title character fighting to revive her teenage son from a suicide attempt. Donny lost the use of all his limbs when he was shot in the neck almost a year before. Her husband vanished without a trace soon after that. Deeply wounded by his desertion and Donny's despair, Shirley soldiers on with her son's full-time care, unable to work for pay and relying on handouts from friends. The more help she's offered, the more stubborn her refusals grow, and she fiercely resents the young white physical therapist who comes with groceries, offering to make life easier for Shirley and Donny. After accepting a Tupperware tub full of cookies from the mother of Donny's childhood pal Jeremy, Shirley learns that Jeremy is a suspect in the shooting. This litany of outrages doesn't sound like a pleasant invitation to a film, but you will be riveted by veteran South African actress Denise Newman's remarkable performance as Shirley, a woman who must hold her head up because pride is all she has left. Director Oliver Hermanus's camera often stays perched just behind Shirley, intimate yet not all-knowing, acknowledging her own private thoughts and feelings. At the same time, the camera's restless proximity is a visual correlative of Shirley's status as a colored (mixed-blood) woman hounded by violence and poverty in post-apartheid South Africa. Its precise, unsentimental focus seeks, along with her, the resolution that will free her from its bonds at last.

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