Outrageous: "Wild Nights with Emily"

May 18, 2019

A wild Emily is a new Emily for those of us her devotees.

Wild Nights with Emily

Grade: B

Director: Madeleine Olnek (Countertransference)

Screenplay: Olnek

Cast: Molly Shannon (Scary Movie 4), Susan Ziegler (Hello, My Name is Doris)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 24 min

By: John DeSando

“Because I could not stop for death,

He kindly stopped for me.” Emily Dickinson

Most cultural historians had pegged Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon) as about dead long before her time when they depicted her to be shy, reclusive, and virginal. Recent scholarship, upon viewing letters from her to sister-in-law Susan (Susan Zieglar) shows a secret passionate love between the two. Hurray for those of us who suspected that poetic soul had more than death on her mind.

Director/writer Madeleine Olnik bouncily constructs the story with different episodes, some flash backs, to give it the feel, as one critic puts it, of a “Victorian vaudeville.” Yes, it has some stock characters, almost winking eyes breaking the wall, and laughable social conventions. More than that, however, it has the roguish tone of a character who is brainy but not above unconventional high-jinx in the love category.

Happily, some of Emily’s prose and poetry is run across the screen at appropriate times in the jagged sequence of mildly torrid scenes. In a sense, these are as minimalist like Emily’s poetry, suggesting much more than the shots reveal. So be it. A poet suggests and does not report.

Although Wild Nights with Emily is titillatingly titled, the film itself is a rather mild exposition of a similarly mild poet, on the outside, mind you. For us English majors, it’s nectar; for the rest, it’s entertaining vaudeville.

“Dying is a wild night and a new road.” Dickinson

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at