Emily Gets Up All In That

Emily Dickinson has a body!

Sex with her sister-in-law in the first five minutes of the irreverent comedy Wild Nights with Emily — plus a steamy jealousy between the two of them over a childhood friend  — is just part of the fun in what will be a completely new take for legions of Emily Dickinson’s worldwide fans.

Thanks to the irrepressible Molly Shannon, the smart-mouthed and brilliant poet Emily Dickinson finally gets her due.

And that’s not all the kink.

While poet and sister-in-law slyly pursue their passions, Emily’s brother flagrantly conducts an affair with his sister’s future posthumous editor.

As a narrative through-line we observe the future editor getting so much wrong as she takes her own ambition-enhancing show on the road interpreting Emily Dickinson to the public.

(Easier to spin new tales once the dead woman poet, & her G-spot, are safely in her grave.)

Expect rom-com rather than strict biopic.

For those of us who know too much about Emily, writer-director Madeleine Olnek takes loads of liberties with the life story of this globally known poet.

It’s a movie, after all, about a rule-breaker — of linguistic and social norms.

Olnek’s tweeks — such as the bumbling suitor who mixes up Brontë plot lines — are refreshing and easy laughs yet still manage to carry the sensibility of Emily’s time and life.

Disappointment in love is the yawn for why Emily D. didn’t publish in her lifetime. This movie leaves audiences with new reasons that make more sense.

The well-cast ensemble manages to delight while still conveying a writer’s ambition thwarted by dull-witted male editors, mired by sexism, who couldn’t grasp or support her literary brilliance.

Funny, I don’t remember that happening to innovators in her rank such as Shakespeare and Cervantes.

The crumbs to multiculturalism — a dreamy sequence narrated by a poem that includes an African-American woman with parasol or the tomb scene where an African-American man alternates with Emily reciting one of her poems on death — came across to me as glaringly odd in a film that does so much right.

Factoid: The film’s left-footed multiculturalism may be a nod to the poet’s home-centered world peopled by maids, gardeners, laborers, and stable hands of African slave-descent, and Yankees, Native Americans, and immigrants from Ireland and England.

Yes, do see the hilarious Wild Nights with Emily and give up any notions that Emily Dickinson was alone — or without love interests or without the daily presence of laboring folks from many backgrounds.

Getting a body — and using it — turns out to be an essential ingredient if you want to write. Perhaps even more so to write with genius.

Published 11 June 2019 in Medium

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