Wild Nights with Emily Movie Review

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.

Then there’s being a woman in love with another woman which would have been even more difficult on poor Emily. All things considered, it’s not hard to see why she may have seemed cranky at times. The love between Emily and Susan (Ziegler), her muse, had to be hidden. This being the case, no one but Susan would have seen her at her most lively and happy. For the era, Emily was anything but what she was expected to be. She was unapologetically selfish when it came to who she loved and who she spent her time with. She loved Susan wildly but had to live the ruse. She was willing to accept it because Susan married her brother, Austin (Seal), which meant they would always be near one another without being accused of anything. Emily is upset about the marriage at first but realizes Susan did it not to be with Austin, but to be with her. As teenagers, young women stole kisses when they could. Now, as adults living next to one another, they could still do the same… undetected.

There are so many creative and shamelessly open scenes in this movie that not only reveal to us how Emily worked but who she was on the inside. Especially when it came to love. She had jealous moments, was intelligent, strong and had a great sense of humor. This woman wrote poetry with the same passion she reserved only for Susan. It’s a shame that a puny amount of her poems was actually published while she was alive. It’s unfortunate that she never got to see how she influenced others. You’ll learn more about this in the postscript before the credits. ‘Wild Nights With Emily’ is an amusing movie and it’s playful. It’s original, captivating and engaging. I recommend it highly. 

*Opening today at Harkins Camelview Fashion Square

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tmc contributor: ShariK.Green
I'm the Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager for tmc.io. I write, direct and produce short films with my production company, Good Stew Productions. I'm now working on my first feature film which is a lot of work but a lot of fun! Though it's hard to answer this questions when asked, I'd say my favorite movie is “The Big Chill.” I enjoy photography, poetry, and hiking and I adore animals, especially elephants. I live in Arizona and feel it's an outstanding and inspirational place to live.

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