Movies never seem to get Emily Dickinson right, but then, we don’t exactly get her right ourselves. The 19th-century poet’s strangeness is evident to us even now, and it eludes the stage play The Belle of Amherst, the film A Quiet Passion, and now the new movie Wild Nights with Emily, though this one is surprisingly scholarly considering its light tone. Of course, casting Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon as Emily creates expectations that this will make comedy out of Dickinson’s life, but if you think this movie will be an SNL treatment of her life, you’ll be disappointed.
The story is told in flashbacks framed by a self-serving lecture by Dickinson editor Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz), who does everything to make herself out as the discoverer of this shut-in poet and gloss over her lesbian affair with her childhood friend Susan Gilbert (Susan Ziegler), who marries Emily’s dimwit brother (Kevin Seal) to be close to her. The historical accuracy of this may not be as settled as the movie renders it, but the film does shine a spotlight on Emily Dickinson’s letters — a body of work as extensive as her poetry — and the text we hear in the movie is taken verbatim from those missives. Writer/director Madeleine Olnek could have taken some more chances with the material, but she does stage a musical number in which the cast sings “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” with the lyrics replaced by the words to “Because I could not stop for Death.” The movie, screening at the Modern this weekend, will be must-viewing for any Dickinson fans.
Wild Nights with Emily runs Fri-Sun at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St, FW. Tickets are $8-10. Call 817-738-9215.