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Molly Shannon Shines During “Wild Nights With Emily”

What a tremendous breath of fresh air this is. Usually, period pieces or biopics of figures such as Emily Dickinson, they tend to be rather dry. Then, there’s Wild Nights with Emily, which takes a far more lighthearted route. In fact, this is basically a dramedy, which you’d never expect based on the premise. That’s what makes the film really work, too. It’s not a movie that’s stuffy or antiseptic in any way. It’s clever, witty, and brimming with life. Hitting theaters this weekend, it’s a really pleasant surprise and a real showcase for both its filmmaker as well as its star.

The movie is a period piece, one that’s actually a mix of comedy and drama, which is pretty rare. Taking from her private letters, this work presents Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon) not as a recluse, but instead the way she actually was, which was a bold lover of life, as well as women. Specifically, she had a lifelong romantic relationship with her friend and sister-in-law Susan (Susan Ziegler). Not what you’d expect, right? While seeking to have her work published, and largely dismissed, we see the life she lived, which is a far cry from what we’ve previously been presented on the record. At the end, we even see how this might have happened, which is rather tragic, especially after what has come before. Madeleine Olnek writes and directs, with cinematography by Anna Stypko. Rounding out the cast that Shannon leads is the likes of Sasha Frolova, Brett Gelman, Dana Melanie, Joel Michaely, Amy Seimetz, and more.

This film is surprisingly fun. In setting the record straight on Emily Dickinson’s story, Olnek and Shannon completely change the focus we’ve come to expect. A crazed shut in with no love in her life? Please. The flick gives us a passionate Dickinson who was simply ahead of her time. Olnek’s writing and directing, as well as Shannon’s performance (more on that next) help to give her a whole new angle and light to be seen in. There’s a slight pacing issue midway through, but to be sure, the good far outweighs the bad. It’s almost impossible not to have a good time with this one. Largely, Olnek and her vision for Dickinson shines as a breath of fresh air.

Molly Shannon is really terrific in this movie. Wild Nights with Emily is elevated in part because of her vivacious turn. Especially considering the tragic final sequence, having invested yourself in this version of Dickinson is essential. Shannon is funny, moving, and completely invested int he role. It’s arguably her best work to date, in fact. Susan Ziegler is very solid as well, but it’s Shannon who stays with you once the end credits role. Olnek’s decision to cast her in the part may not have been a particularly obvious one, but it’s sure the right one, as you’ll soon see.

As of yesterday, Emily Dickinson fans eager to see their literary icon in a new light would do well to give a shot to Wild Nights with Emily. The film is way more fun than you’d expect, with life brimming throughout every single shot. This may be a little too odd of a take on Dickinson to appeal to Academy voters, but that remains to be seen. The screenplay and Shannon’s performance are certainly worthy of Oscar consideration later on in the year. For now, 2019 has a brand new take on Dickinson, which may actually be one day the definitive one. If so, we’ll be lucky to have this version of her…

Be sure to check out Wild Nights with Emily, in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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