‘Wild Nights With Emily’ Review: Molly Shannon Is Emily Dickinson in the Best **** Comedy in Years — SXSW

IndieWire | 3/11/2018 | Staff
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Madeleine Olnek’s movies may be an acquired taste, but the woman knows how to write a catchy premise. Her three feature films — all madcap comedies with absurdist leanings — include **** aliens looking for love, **** hustlers picking up women outside Talbot’s — and now, **** Emily Dickinson traipsing across her Amherst lawn after a tryst with her sister-in-law, her petticoats flung about her head. That’s the premise of “Wild Nights With Emily,” and to say that they just don’t make movies like this anymore would be grossly inaccurate: It’s hard to imagine anyone making this movie other than Olnek.

Using Dickinson’s letters and poems (with the permission from Harvard University Press), “Wild Nights With Emily” paints a much sunnier portrait of the poet than that of the reclusive spinster terrified of publication. Instead, the film imagines a lively woman forced to hide a lifelong love affair whose work was mostly rejected by a literary establishment that would embrace it after her death.

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Continuing a fruitful post-“Saturday Night Live” indie film career (she won an Indie Spirit Award last year for “Other People”), Molly Shannon is brilliant and warm as the literary icon. The movie begins with a lecture given by Dickinson’s first publisher, Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz, in a rare comedic turn), who spins the yarn of the reclusive Dickinson with a syrupy grin and pink flat-top hat. Mabel’s narration is a necessary reminder of the Dickinson that the world knows, and its inaccuracy is hilarious when juxtaposed against this vivacious and joyful version, known here simply as Emily.

Though it is certainly a comedy, “Wild Nights With Emily” is anchored by a surprisingly touching love story between Emily and her friend from childhood, Susan Gilbert (Susan Ziegler). Their teenage romance develops during 19th century sleepovers that would make 21st century...
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