25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: DICKINSON – There’s a Certain Slant of Light

Dickinson (2019)

Starring

Hailee Steinfeld (Bumblebee)
Toby Huss (Halloween 2018)
Jane Krakowski (Pixels)
Adrian Enscoe (Seeds)
Anna Baryshnikov (Manchester By The Sea)
Ella Hunt (Anna and The Apocalypse)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Stars

Zosia Mamet (The Flight Attendant)
Gus Birney (Darcy)
Gus Halper (Cold Pursuit)
Jessica Hecht (Dan In Real Life)
Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager)
Matt Lauria (Kingdom)

 

There’s a Certain Slant of Light

2Christmas at the Dickinson household is — as I believe the kids still say — lit. We have: sexual escapades at the dinner table! Drunk Jane Krakowski singing Christmas carols! A cool aunt who got “widow’s euphoria” and took her husband’s death as an opportunity to clean up on a cruise to Spain with ham-eating gentlemen! Zosia Mamet as Louisa May Alcott! Hair so tightly curled you could tug it at the bottom and it would BOING back into place! Everybody binge-reading Bleak House like it’s the streaming sensation of the day! It is the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately for Papa Dickinson, he has to miss all of these festivities because he has to go to Washington and insist upon the rule of law, decency, and the ongoing tolerance of slavery. He and Em have not made up. When he finds her inside refusing to bid him farewell at the curb, she threatens to be gone when he gets back. In a tender, patronizing voice, he replies, “Where would you go?”3Their relationship is one of the most intriguing of the show. His love for her is inextricable from his total control over her life. Every freedom she enjoys that most women of her station do not — to read and write (in private), to defy the pressures to get married and have children — are indulgences he is granting her and, at any moment, could rescind, and the only things he really lets her do are the things that align with his own interests. It’s his fear of having to live without her, not his respect for her desire for a life free from the drudgery of housewifery, that drives him to let her stay single forever. And he gets to let her have her “independence” because he knows there’s no real independence without financial independence, which she doesn’t have and never will. But also, he does love her and probably is a little bit in awe of her and her talents — so much so that he is terrified at the idea of the world finding out what a wonder she is.
4Mama Dickinson is so distraught at her husband’s departure that she takes herself to bed. But Christmas will go on, and Ben MUST stay, and Em, who has previously feigned an allergy to the fabric that makes aprons, will oversee the goose roasting and other such things. This allows her to flirt with Ben in the kitchen and cosplay as a housewife for a hot second because she is feeling, in her bones, the need to get out of her father’s house. Of course her only way out of one man’s house is into another’s, but at least Ben sees her as a peer and doesn’t hit her in the face when he’s feeling emasculated. Slim pickings in the mid-1800s!5Aunt Lavinia, Vinnie’s namesake, is here to talk about how invigorating it is to be around handsome ham-eating men in Europe. The Humphreys brought their friend from Concord: Louisa May Alcott, who just made $35 for her first book and will not not talk about the money, because that’s the whole reason she’s in this business. God bless her. On a pre-dinner run (“I love to run, that’s like an actual fact about me”), Ms. Alcott gives Em some no-bullshit talk about the publishing industry and working as a professional writer. This brings us the absolutely perfect line, “Hawthorne can eat a dick, am I right?” Yes, you ARE right! This will be my go-to response if and when it comes up that I never got around to reading The Scarlet Letter even though it was assigned to me twice. I should’ve been allowed to read The Handmaid’s Tale instead! The syllabus was totally sexist.
6So, Louisa tells Em to not be so precious and to write what sells. Sponcon is fine. Don’t worry about the disapproval of your family who may never speak to you again. “So what? You’ll be out there making a living on your own.” Her number-one piece of advice: Never get married. “In the time it takes you to raise one baby, you can write four or five novels and you can sell those novels.” (Em points out that she is a poet, not a novelist. LMA’s reply: Ah, that’s another problem.) Mama Dickinson rallies in time for dinner. She is sloshed. Christmas! Joseph is here and Vinnie, encouraged by her namesake’s declaration that “if you want something in life you have to reach out and GRAB IT,” takes Joe’s hand and pulls it up her skirt so she can have some hilariously timed orgasms at the dinner table. Louisa comes up with the idea for Little Women and considers, but drops, Moby Dick: “Like a dude chasing a whale? Nah, that’s fucking boring.” THAT IS TRUE. That is another book I did not finish. See above, re: sexist syllabus. Why didn’t I have to read any books by women in my senior year of high school? That’s RUDE is what it is.8Jane casually drops that she’s engaged to William Wilkinson, which makes Mama Dickinson lament that her daughter Em is “being left behind.” “Of course,” she drunkenly slurs on, “Getting married is no guarantee that you won’t be lonely.” Yikes, but also, show me the lie. As Mama Dickinson leads a round of carols, Sue, who is so jealous, tells Em to stop “throwing herself” at a married man. Em has not yet told Sue that this wife does not exist but I hope she does soon, because Sue is really bringing me down. Em puts her mother to bed, who in turn tells her daughter that it’s actually fine if she doesn’t get married because she can just stay here and take care of her parents forever! Em’s face pales. Back in her room, she and Sue are sharing a bed again. (Guess Austin got over that whole thing?) She puts it together that Ben isn’t really married, thank goodness, and she also is honest about her envy and how selfish it was of her to expect Em to just hang around and be available to her “like a pet.” I am impressed by this level of introspection. Em describes how she feels with Ben, how fully understood she feels by him, and Sue’s jealousy returns — since, you know, Austin barely understands her at all.8Happy Christmas morning! Vinnie tears into all the gifts before anyone else comes downstairs. There’s just one thing for Em that she left untouched: Plans for a conservatory, a gift from their dad. Supposedly this is so Em can “have roses all the time” but she sees it for what it really is: a bright and flower-filled prison, built and owned by her father, from which she will never escape. Sue’s Christmas gift to Austin is a very real hug and a loaded question: Can they be really honest with each other? She admits that she is afraid of having children because her mother died in childbirth. Austin says they don’t have to have kids, which is pretty progressive for a man of his day, but then they immediately have unprotected sex right there in the living room, so, we’ll see how that shakes out. Ben wakes up with this gross cough. Em walks him home and kisses him anyway because she doesn’t know about germ theory. (It wouldn’t be proven by Louis Pasteur for about 30 more years, which is bad news for everybody in range of that extremely contagious-sounding throat situation.) While this is all very sweet — Ben says he doesn’t want to get her sick, and Em says, “I’ve never felt better in my life” .8A great Christmas episode for this quirky comedy/drama show, and its defiantly worth a watch over the Christmas season.

 

REVIEW: DICKINSON – SEASON 1

Hailee Steinfeld in Dickinson (2019)

Starring

Hailee Steinfeld (Bumblebee)
Toby Huss (Halloween 2018)
Jane Krakowski (Pixels)
Adrian Enscoe (Seeds)
Anna Baryshnikov (Manchester By The Sea)
Ella Hunt (Anna and The Apocalypse)

Recurring / Notable Guest Stars

Darlene Hunt (The Big C)
Matt Lauria (Shaft)
Wiz Khalifa (Gangs of Roses 2)
John Mulaney (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
Sophie Zucker (Late Night)
Samuel Farnsworth (Signing Time!)
Amanda Warren (The Purge TV)
Gus Halper (Cold Pursuit)
Robert Picardo (The Orville)
Jason Mantzoukas (The Good Place)

Hailee Steinfeld in Dickinson (2019)This is such bullshit. That’s how 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) feels – as Apple TV+ series Dickinson would have it – about being asked to fetch water at four in the morning. Never mind that the expletive wasn’t invented until nearly a century later. And never mind that “pretty psyched”, “nailed it” and “yo” weren’t exactly kicking around then, either. Dickinson is a peculiar, messy, anachronistic delight.Hailee Steinfeld in Dickinson (2019)Some reviews have taken issue with Alena Smith’s comedy series, one of the first batch of original shows from the newly launched Apple TV+, for its strangely contemporary language. But it makes a kind of sense, given that its hero was out of step with the order of the day. The real-life Massachusetts poet had her ambitions scuppered by a father (played here by Toby Huss) who did “not approve of a woman seeking to build herself a literary reputation”. In that respect, Steinfeld is perfectly cast. She has a face – and a set of elastic expressions – that feels both well-suited to a period piece (as first displayed in her Oscar-nominated role in True Grit in 2010), and resolutely out of place in it. Just as Emily Dickinson was. Steinfeld crackles with charm and impropriety.dickinson-hailee-steinfeld-orchard-600x311When we meet Emily, her mother (30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski, sweetly cruel as ever) is unsuccessfully attempting to marry her off to any man available. Emily is is as uninterested as her mother is desperate, partly because she wants to become a great writer, and “a husband would put a stop to that”, and partly because she’s in love with her best friend Sue (Ella Hunt), who is engaged to her brother Austin (Adrian Enscoe) but who steals clandestine kisses with Emily in the rain.s-l300That part actually is historically accurate. Or at least, based in truth – the real-life Dickinson would write long, unmistakably romantic love letters to Susan: “Susie, will you indeed come home next Saturday, and be my own again, and kiss me as you used to?” The solemn, elegant 2016 film A Quiet Passion, in which Cynthia Nixon played a far more timid version of Dickinson than Steinfeld portrays, omitted this relationship. Another recent adaptation (Dickinson’s having a comeback, it seems), 2018’s Wild Nights With Emily, made it its focus. It’s to Dickinson’s credit that it neither shies away from, nor ogles at, the affair between the two.1_o4tiFPgmX8XOsD7Wk_pliwBut there is another great love in Emily’s life – death. This is where things gets really weird. Making very literal the immortalised line, “Because I could not stop for death/ He kindly stopped for me”, Emily is visited at night, to the strains of Billie Eilish’s “Bury A Friend” no less, by a carriage containing the human embodiment of death. And who better to play the part than a gold-toothed, top-hatted Wiz Khalifa? Surprisingly, the rapper and Steinfeld shares a wry, roiling chemistry. “You’ll be the only Dickinson they’ll talk about in 200 years,” he tells her. I don’t think they’ll be talking about this Dickinson in 200 years. But it’s very fun nonetheless.