Told in a series of flashbacks, Wild Nights with Emily, a new, ridiculously irreverent and inventive biopic about the "spinster recluse" Emily Dickinson, traces how the poet toiled in obscurity and carried on a romance with her brother's wife while experimenting with the literary form in genuinely novel ways.
Much like Drunk History, the Comedy Central series that stages famous historical events with intoxicated comedic actors and actresses playing the roles,Wild Nights with Emily uses humor to relate Emily's remarkable story. It opens at the Cedar Lee Theatre on Friday.
While still young girls, Emily (Dana Melanie) and Susan (Sasha Frolova) become romantically involved. Emily, however, gets thrown for a loop when Susan announces she intends to marry Emily's brother Austin (John Pena Griswold). Privately, however, Susan explains to Emily that the marriage is a matter of convenience and will simply enable them to spend more time together.
Turns out, she was right. Flash forward a few years and an adult Emily (Molly Shannon) and an adult Susan (Susan Ziegler) can hardly keep their hands off one another. Adult Austin (Kevin Seal) doesn't have a clue that they're lovers.
Ultimately, writer-director Madeleine Olnek (The Foxy Merkins) aims to provide a reappraisal of Dickinson's life and work. And to that extent, the movie is a success, even if it's rather disjointed and takes a number of sometimes confusing detours, including one which centers on Atlantic Monthly editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Brett Gelman) and another that focuses on Emily's "meeting" with Ralph Waldo Emerson (Robert McCaskill).
The film also shows the extent to which Dickinson came up against those damned male literary gatekeepers who had the chance to publish her work but declined to do so. "What is poetry in essence?" asks Higginson as he tells Emily she's "not ready to publish" because her poems make him feel "unclear." His haphazard attempt to edit her work derailed one of the most significant literary careers in America, something that's clearly not lost on Olnek.