Molly Shannon plays Emily Dickinson in this comedic look at the poet's life and legacy

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The life of poet Emily Dickinson is celebrated in "Wild Nights with Emily," a daffy comedic drama that gleefully takes the hot air out of conventional historical biopics. 

Writer-director Madeleine Olnek's approach is much more "Drunk History" than "Masterpiece Theater." At times it resembles a "Saturday Night Live" sketch — both in its style and its on-the-fly production values — but it presents a lively counterargument to Dickinson's reputation as a, in the film's words, "dear, sweet, spinster recluse poet." 

"SNL" vet Molly Shannon plays Dickinson with reverence for her character and a desire to make her a living, breathing person, not a stuffy figure from a history book. She grounds her Dickinson in an everyday relatability; one of the first times we see her writing, it's on the back of a gingerbread recipe.

Olnek plays up Dickinson's relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan (Susan Ziegler), Dickinson's rumored lover and the subject of many of her works. History has attempted to whitewash their relationship, resulting in a convoluted narrative around Dickinson's poetry. Olnek responds with defiance, attempting to right the wrongs surrounding Dickinson's treatment, and throwing others in her life — including foolhardy male editors who wouldn't work with her — under the proverbial bus.

English majors and literary fans will find it a scream, others will be mildly amused by its playful approach to history. But at the heart of "Wild Nights with Emily" is a real love for Dickinson's work and an attempt to properly re-contextualize her story. That, in itself, is noble. 

'Wild Nights With Emily'

GRADE: B

Rated PG-13: for sexual content

Running time: 84 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

 

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