Preview of the film: ‘Wild Nights with Emily’ | Movie previews

One of my favorite things about watching movies for a living is having the opportunity to experience the work of a new filmmaker and then watch that artist develop and refine their voice with each new project. Example: the wonderful independent filmmaker Madeleine Olnek.

Olnek specializes in ironic, impassive and affably unpolished comedies, first gaining attention with his 2011 feature film “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same”, a black-and-white sci-fi romance between a shy female employee. from a greeting card store and the woman she loves. I don’t realize he’s from outer space. She followed up with “The Foxy Merkins” in 2013, an absurd boyfriend comedy that follows the wacky misadventures of two lesbian sex workers.

While sometimes hampered by their limited budgets, both films are inventive, witty, character-driven films with distinctive voices that I immediately knew I wanted to learn more about.

In an era when many new directors (often white males) are drawn from the world of micro-budget independents and immediately handed the reins of a blockbuster feature film, Olnek took a different path.

Each of his films remained the most independent of independent productions, but it also freed Olnek from the pressures of working within the studio system. During these years, she was able to grow and evolve as a filmmaker at a more deliberate pace. And each of Olnek’s plans got a bit more ambitious, with his latest being a full-fledged historical comedy-drama with a recognizable star.

“Wild Nights with Emily”, is a hilarious and moving biopic that reinvents the life of Emily Dickinson (played by Molly Shannon) and recontextualizes the writer’s work through the prism of her sexuality, in particular her long-lasting romantic relationship. date with her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert Dickinson (the hilarious Susan Ziegler, a veteran of the three Olnek feature films). And it’s Olnek’s strongest movie to date.

Emily and Susan had been friends since childhood, and we met them during their teenage years (with Dana Melanie as Emily and Sasha Frolova as Susan), when their friendship turned into a story of love. Susan eventually married Emily’s brother Austin (Kevin Seal), moving into the house next door. Living as neighbors allowed the two women to continue their relationship in secret for the next 40 years.

The film includes a sort of narrator, in the form of smug and opportunistic Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz). Based on a real person, Todd is the one who “discovered” Dickinson’s treasure trove of 1,800 poems and took it upon himself to publish them four years after Dickinson’s death in 1886. But not before taking the time to ‘edit and delete the passages she deemed controversial. It should be noted that she was also Austin Dickinson’s mistress.

Despite the presence of a renowned talent like Shannon, “Wild Nights with Emily” maintains Olnek’s shaggy style. With a tone that sounds like “Masterpiece Theater” to “Drunk History,” it’s an exciting effort to save Dickinson from the narrative that defined it.

The story was inspired by a New York Times article on how spectrographic technology enabled researchers to recover words and phrases that had been erased from Dickinson’s writings, the most prominent being the name “Sue”.

Working with this fact, Olnek’s script casts out the widely accepted story of Dickinson’s life. Her vision is a far cry from the image of a miserable and sickly recluse that has been popularized over the years and, according to the film, the result of Emily’s legacy filtered through Mabel Todd’s eyes. Along with possessing Shannon’s expert comedic prowess, the film version of Emily is a willful woman who has lived fully and loved deeply.

Throughout, you feel a genuine love for Dickinson’s writing, and it’s evident that a lot of research has gone into its creation. Olnek consulted Dickinson scholar Martha Nell Smith, whose book “Rowing in Eden: Rereading Emily Dickinson” focused on the author’s biased legacy. She also received approval from Harvard University Press and the Amherst College Special Collections, which gave her access to their archives of Dickinson’s poems and letters.

“Wild Nights With Emily” is funny, really touching, and engaged in the kind of clever but silly silliness that is a joy to watch. It’s filled with biting wit and genuine emotion, throughout the heartbreaking end credits. Also, did I mention it was a period piece? That Olnek is able to do all of this on such a visibly low budget is all the more impressive.

I look forward to the moment when an avant-garde studio will offer him a generous budget to match his talent. Which isn’t to say that I need a Madeleine Olnek “Avengers” movie – as far as I know she has no interest in making a bigger budget movie of any sort. But I’m thrilled with the possibilities of what she could do with enough resources to let her imagination run wild.

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