Barbara Hershey gives a great performance as the deeply repressed backwoods woman -- it could have been caricature work, but it's passionate, dedicated and determined yet restrained. Her character is so dedicated to code and rigid beliefs that after a while we surprise ourselves by starting to wonder if there's some truth, or sense, or admirable strength, to her punishing way of living.
The city woman, played by Jill Clayburgh, is our way into the story, and yet she is depicted as somewhat silly and sheltered; her modern, idealistic comments and questions get across thoughts we agree with, and yet they aren't intended as powerful speeches, so our balance of skepticism and interest in Hershey is retained.
"Shy People" is full of powerful melodrama, strange and specific characters, striking settings, extreme dramatic implications and turning points. The material penetrates the mind and refuses to settle down in the form of cosy conclusions. An oddly powerful movie.
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