Brilliant. Simply, brilliant! Using everything she knows to apply her subtle wit, Molly Shannon, formerly with Saturday Night Live, has given us quite a pearl with her take on Emily Dickenson. Working with an excellent script from the writer/director Madeleine Olnek, she gives us a fresh look into the life of this American poet and anomaly. In 1914, Emily’s niece published a book of Emily’s poems which she dedicated to the love that her mother Susan and Emily shared. Interestingly enough, in 1998 the New York Times used technology to restore her mother’s name in the love letters that Emily had sent her. Her mother’s name, Susan (who was also Emily’s sister-in-law) could be erased by the family for a time but could not be erased from history.
The vehicle Olnek uses to tell this story is through the words of Mabel Todd (Seimetz) who is giving a lecture about the poet to a group of women. Mable had an affair with Austin, Emily’s brother, and though she had never actually met Emily, she pushes that she’s the authority on her and Emily’s work and life. This is no doubt done by Mable to get herself some recognition.
Emily was thought to have lived somewhat similarly to a hermit who’s the shy-type and may have been disliked because of it. It was rumored she may have been so disagreeable she wasn’t interested in being published because she thought her work wasn’t good enough to be published. But maybe she thought the publisher wasn’t worthy of publishing it. In an innovative and comical way, this film not only dispels many myths about this woman, her work and her life but enlightens the audience. Emily Dickenson was anything but a recluse. Growing up next to a cemetery created a bit of a dark side in her but she had plenty of fun-filled days… and nights. She participated in life heart and soul… when she was with her love. Reminder. Being a woman in those days meant you couldn’t be too successful lest you step on a man’s toes.
This is represented adequately with incredibly well-written and impressive, potent dialogue, when Emily attempts to get the editor at The Atlantic, Higginson (Gelman), to put some of her poems in his magazine. He believes women should have the right to be recognized and to vote. He thinks more intelligent women need to be heard but also says that he’s, ‘barely able to find any.’ He insults Emily’s work by saying that when he reads her poetry, ‘He’s left feeling… I’m not sure what.’ He discloses to her that unless he’s able to edit the hell out of her poems, she can forget being published by his magazine. She thanks him for his surgical suggestions but isn’t happy about them.