Wild Nights with Emily

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Wild Nights with Emily
Wild Nights with Emily poster.jpg
Directed byMadeleine Olnek
Produced by
  • Anna Margarita Albelo
  • Casper Andreas
  • Madeleine Olnek
  • Max Rifkind-Barron
Written byMadeleine Olnek
CinematographyAnna Stypko
Edited byTony Clemente Jr.
Lee Eaton
  • P2 Films
  • UnLTD Productions
  • Salem Street Entertainment
  • Embrem Entertainment
Distributed byGreenwich Entertainment
Release date
  • March 11, 2018 (2018-03-11) (South by Southwest)
  • April 12, 2019 (2019-04-12) (United States)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$519,487[1]

Wild Nights with Emily is a 2018 American biographical comedy film written and directed by Madeleine Olnek. It stars Molly Shannon as Emily Dickinson, as well as Amy Seimetz, Susan Ziegler, Brett Gelman, Jackie Monahan, Kevin Seal, Dana Melanie, Sasha Frolova, Lisa Haas and Stella Chesnut. The film is about Emily Dickinson's life as a writer, her attempts to get published, and her vivacious, irreverent side that was covered up for years — most notably, her lifelong romantic relationship with another woman — dispelling the myth that she was an unloved recluse once and for all.

It had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 11, 2018, and was released in the US on April 12, 2019, by Greenwich Entertainment.


In her teens, Emily Dickinson befriends Susan Gilbert during a recitation of the Amherst’s Shakespeare Society, and during a scene in which they play lovers, a romance blossoms. On a stroll afterward, they kiss. Emily’s family leaves for a month long trip, and Susan stays with Emily for the duration. They continue to spend time together, concealing the romantic aspect of their relationship from others.

Susan gets a teaching job out west, and they write countless love letters to each others while she is away. When she returns, Emily is surprised to learn that Susan has been betrothed to Emily’s brother Austin, which Susan had kept secret from her. Susan apologizes to Emily and explains that it’s all part of a greater scheme: Susan cannot financially support herself without getting married, and by marrying Austin they can build a house right next door to Emily and no one will suspect their romance.

Twenty years later, Emily and Susan live next door to each other, and Susan’s children deliver their countless notes back and forth between the two houses. Emily shows Susan the poems she has written, some of which are written on scraps of paper and in the margins of recipes, and many of which mention Susan by name. Emily also likes to garden and bake bread for the neighborhood children.

During a period when Emily is too busy to speak to Susan, a recently widowed Kate Scott Turner travels to stay with Susan. But Kate turns out to be more interested in Emily, and ends up staying at her place instead. Kate leaves suddenly, and Emily tells Susan she wishes she’d had a chance to say goodbye and give Kate the pair of garters she sewed for her. Susan is jealous because Emily never made garters for her.

Emily receives the company of Judge Otis Phillips Lords, an old man who confuses the Brontë sisters (describing the book “Withering Jane”), falls asleep mid conversation, and calls Emily "plain". While on his way out he stumbles, and as the same moment Emily reaches out to help him, Susan walks in, catching them mid-embrace.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson also visits Emily after she writes about publishing her poems. During their meeting he corrects her on what the meaning of poetry is, describes how women’s writing is different than men’s writing, and even copy-edits one of her poems right in front of her. He tells her the poems are not ready for publication.

Mabel Todd first comes to Emily's house on an invitation to play the piano for Emily, but is surprised when the maid tells her that she will play alone in the drawing room, and that Emily will remain upstairs to listen to the music while she writes. Mabel meets Austin after moving to Amherst, and they began an affair. They have little shame about it, and frequently appear in public together. They often go to Emily's house to make love, which Emily avoids by staying in her room. Mabel suggests to Austin that they publish their love letters, but Austin finds that idea too scandalous and tells her to seek for a creative outlet elsewhere.

Emily suddenly becomes ill and passes away. Her sister Lavinia asks Susan to wash the body for burial. After her death, Mabel discovers a chest full of Emily's poems and letters, but she realizes that many of the best ones are addressed to Susan. She enlists the help of Austin to erase all the instances of "Susan" and replace them with men's names instead.

Years later after Emily's work has become successful, Mabel gives a talk to a large group of society women. She tells them that because Emily was such an eccentric recluse, she only saw her face once: in the casket of her funeral. She explains that her poems must have been directed to Judge Otis, and that she added titles to all the poems so that audiences would know exactly what they were about. Emily's niece also gives a lecture about how her aunt and mother were secret lovers, but only three people attend.

The film ends with titles explaining that recent technology has revealed Mabel's erasures and shown that the love letters were indeed written to Susan.



Wild Nights with Emily was originally performed as a play at New York's WOW Café in 1999,[3] and was also produced by Chicago's Caffeine Theatre in 2010[4][5] as well as in Boston and Alaska.[6] When she was in college, Olnek used to say that she aspired to be "the Emily Dickinson of comedy" because of the conception at the time that Dickinson had been miserable, but she later found out Dickinson was actually really funny.[7] Olnek was inspired to make the film when she read an article about how new research was changing perceptions of historical figures, and which described how Dickinson had had an affair with her brother's wife, contrary to the popular conceptions of Dickinson's life and personality.[8] Research of the film had support from Harvard University Press and the Guggenheim Foundation.[9] In the play, Olnek had used many quotes from Dickinson's letters and poems, but when it came to adapting for the screen, she found that the film needed a lot fewer. The quotes that are used in the film are sometimes spoken and sometimes displayed on the screen.[10]

Olnek knew many of the actors in the film from working with them in the past.[11] She attended NYU with Molly Shannon, and had directed a performance with Shannon for which she first created the character Mary Katherine Gallagher.[12](1:12) All these years, Olnek decided to wait to work with Shannon again until she had a story with enough "depth and scale"[7], and Shannon was surprised to be asked because Emily Dickinson is not the type of role that Hollywood would typically offer her.[12] Olnek originally met Amy Seimetz at various film festivals and had always wanted to work with her, and Brett Gelman was recommended by Shannon.[11]

A rough cut of the film won the "US in Progress" award at the Champs-Élysées Film Festival, including a prize of €50,000 for post production and promotion.[13]

Olnek has credited Drunk History as an inspiration for the tone of the film.[12] She thought it was important to include comedy because she has noticed that "some people don't like to be lectured about feminism".[11](15:20)

Release and reception[edit]

The film premiered at the SXSW film festival.[8][14][15][16][8] Greenwich Entertainment acquired the distribution rights in November 2018,[9] and it was released in theaters on April 12, 2019.[17] The film was rated PG-13 for "sexual content" by the Motion Picture Association of America, which was given to the film due to a scene in which Austin and Mabel make moaning noises, according to Olnek.[18]

The film holds a 90% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with 72 reviews counted, with an average rating of 7.24/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Silly yet deceptively smart, Wild Nights with Emily approaches its oft-investigated subject from a unique -- and utterly entertaining -- vantage point."[19] After getting initial reviews about rewriting history, Olnek put together a 40 page "historical packet" to explain the research that supports the film.[20]


  1. ^ "Wild Nights with Emily (2019)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
  2. ^ DeFore, John (March 12, 2018). "'Wild Nights With Emily': Film Review; SXSW 2018". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
  3. ^ "Circus Catch". Village Voice. June 15, 1999. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  4. ^ Fuller, Graham (June 26, 2017). "The Latest Emily Dickinson Movie Is a Lesbian Romance". Culture Trip. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  5. ^ Sullivan, Catey (March 13, 2010). "REVIEW: Wild Nights with Emily (Caffeine Theatre)". Chicago Theater Beat. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  6. ^ Hughes, Holly; Tropicana, Carmelita; Dolan, Jill (November 30, 2015). Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café Theater. University of Michigan Press. p. 96. ISBN 0472068636. Retrieved February 2, 2019 – via GoogleBooks.
  7. ^ a b Wild Nights with Emily - Deadline Studio at SXSW 2018 (video). Deadline Hollywood. March 11, 2018. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Grobar, Matt (March 11, 2018). "'Wild Nights With Emily's Molly Shannon Shows A Side To Emily Dickinson The World Doesn't Know — SXSW". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
  9. ^ a b N'Duka, Amanda (November 26, 2018). "Emily Dickinson SXSW Comedy 'Wild Nights With Emily' Set At Greenwich". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  10. ^ Kleinmann, James (April 15, 2019). "Exclusive Interview: Director Madeleine Olnek on her Wild Nights With Emily Starring Molly Shannon as Emily Dickinson". HeyUGuys. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c Madeleine Olnek and Cast - Wild Nights With Emily Red Carpet and Q&A - SXSW 2018 (video). SXSW. September 5, 2018. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  12. ^ a b c 2018 Outfest Film Festival Q&A's - Wild Nights With Emily (video). Outfest. March 26, 2018. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  13. ^ Goodfellow, Melanie (June 23, 2017). "Emily Dickinson drama wins at Champs-Elysées fest's US in Progress". ScreenDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  14. ^ Nicholson, Amy (March 15, 2018). "SXSW Film Review: 'Wild Nights With Emily'". Variety (magazine). Retrieved June 30, 2018.
  15. ^ Mokry, Natalie (March 14, 2018). "'WILD NIGHTS WITH EMILY' REVIEW: NOT SUCH A RECLUSE AFTER ALL". Film School Rejects. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
  16. ^ Dry, Jude (March 11, 2018). "'Wild Nights With Emily' Review: Molly Shannon Is Emily Dickinson in the Best Lesbian Comedy in Years — SXSW". IndieWire. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
  17. ^ "Greenwich Entertainment". Retrieved February 26, 2019. Wild Nights with Emily. Directed by Madeleine Olnek. See In Theaters April 12.
  18. ^ Esposito, Cameron (May 5, 2019). "Episode 85: Madeleine Olnek". Queery with Cameron Esposito (podcast). Event occurs at 14:52. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  19. ^ "Wild Nights with Emily". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  20. ^ Esposito, Cameron (May 5, 2019). "Episode 85: Madeleine Olnek". Queery with Cameron Esposito (podcast). Event occurs at 8:03. Retrieved May 7, 2019.

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