White. So much white. The drifting dandelion fluff, the floating puffy clouds, blowing white curtains, candles, mounds of a woman’s underclothes tossed around the sheets and the soft white skin of two young women, limbs entangled, faces pressed together, still dreaming. White, the symbol of of purity? Wait. This is about Emily Dickinson? Clutch my pearls.

Madeleine Olnek’s “Wild Nights with Emily” begins. Two country girls are running in the sunlight, loose limbed, hair blowing in the spring breezes.

Young Emily (Dana Melanie) with Susan (Sasha Frolova), her beloved childhood and forever friend are running though fields and woods, picking flowers, brushing one another’s hair and holding hands, hugging and giggling. Lips explore lips. Wait. This is about Emily Dickinson?

Welcome to Madeleine Olnek’s “Wild Nights with Emily,” — Olnek who gave us “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same” and “The Foxy Merkins.” Make of that oeuvre what you will.

“Wild Nights with Emily.” The title taken from the poet’s “Wild Nights, Wild Nights!,” which if we are to believe Ms. Olnek, opens a closet door where the dusty literati never imagined there was one. Or did they?

Just when we think we’re in a Merchant Ivory tale of linen, china and proper silverware settings, out of nowhere a jarring comic SNL-like scene appears that tells us where we’re going with this.

The middle-aged Emily walks into a sunlit afternoon parlor. She pauses. Susan, now her sister-in-law (more on that soon), appears. They smile, touch, embrace, lips meet. They grapple one another like sumo wrestlers, swirl and tumble to the floor behind a couch, while the strings and keys of 1800 country music fill the room. Wait. This is about … never mind.

In “Wild,” we meet the grown up Emily (Molly Shannon) and Susan (Susan Ziegler). I’ve never heard of her, but she’s possessed of crack comedy timing.

Susan married early in life to Emily’s brother Austin (Kevin Seal), a tweedy lawyer with whom Emily had an unusually close relationship. 

Together they moved in right next door to Emily who was still single, with bedroom window views of one another. You will have to see the results for yourself to believe it.

You came to see a story of Emily Dickinson, the “Belle of Amherst?” Yes, and brace yourself and prepare for an outing.

 In the opening titles a scene note tells us that “At that time, the folks of Amherst thought of Emily Dickinson as an uptight, half cracked, unloved recluse who dressed all in white and never left her room.”

“Wild Nights” puts all of that to rest.

 We are happy to meet an an old friend, SNL comedian Molly Shannon playing Emily. That’s right, Molly Shannon, the whacked out Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher, veteran of Saturday Night Live from 1995 to 2001. Don’t be alarmed. Shannon delivers a straight out complex and touching performance, at one moment solemn and spiritual at another, a humorous, horny poet.

The true story of the Dickinson family is a complicated tale in itself and is only hinted at in this film. Google it for some interesting reading.

Much of the film hop scotches from comedy to drama and back again. There are laugh out loud moments and others that touch the heart.

There is treachery here that extends into modern times before it is revealed and corrected. 

Olnek sets her scenes like dress rehearsals for an Emily Dickinson festival summer stock play with talented local players, but somehow it works.

 Parts of “Wild Nights” will shock you, others will draw a tear.

 Finally, I can think of no category in which to place “Wild Nights with Emily.” I’ll leave that up to you. 

 

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.


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