Every time a bloated, conventional, cradle-to-grave biopic garners more attention than cinephiles deem palatable, the same question arises. Why is it the cinematic explorations of our world’s most creative people — from Freddie Mercury to Sylvia Plath — routinely lack creativity?
And while all the detractors could really do to dent “Bohemian Rhapsody” was mock its hacky editing on Twitter, it’s more constructive to champion the rare antidotes to the biopic formula. That means shouting out movies like “Wild Nights With Emily” — an unlikely comedy about the life of Emily Dickinson that seeks to rejuvenate and reclaim one of America’s most famous poets.
Based on her 1999 play of the same name, Madeleine Olnek’s third feature (after “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same” and “The Foxy Merkins”) injects back life into Dickinson’s largely bloodless reputation as a recluse who died without love or fame. “Wild Nights With Emily” boldly claims that Dickinson was … a person, and that a literary genius rejecting the sexual and social morays of 1870s New England might actually find some inspiration and humor in her personal rebellions. In addition to the movie’s many well-orchestrated gags of manners, Molly Shannon deserves ample credit for this movie’s small rebellion. As Dickinson, the star of the late-‘90s “SNL” and beloved 2106 dramedy “Other People” preserves a gentle interiority to Dickinson while also conveying the wry exasperation she felt toward the insipid, overgrown boys parading around as the waistcoated, side-burned gatekeepers of the era.
Listen to the podcast interview below as Olnek discusses correcting her own misconceptions about Dickinson, directing the sketch that originated Shannon’s most famous SNL character, and why she feels other historical women could benefit from a “Wild Nights With Emily” approach to the biopic.