Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – TIFF 2017 Review

William Moulton Marston had a fascinating life. He was a veteran of the first World War, a college Professor, a psychologist, a feminist, an inventor who helped give us the lie detector, a writer of prose fiction and scientific essays, a husband, a father, a part of a long-term polyamorous relationship, and creator of Wonder Woman. It’s a shame that his film is as tedious as it is.

Luke Evans (Beauty & The Beast, The Fast & The Furious series) [Admin’s Note: obligatory High-Rise reference is needed] plays the titular Professor in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. We meet him watching public comic book burnings and being interviewed by fellow psychologist Josette Frank (Connie Britton) about the dangers that his most famous creation may cause to the minds of young children. Whichever segment of the comic or Bill’s life they are discussing leads to a series of flashbacks telling our main story.

Bella Heathcote (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Fifty Shades Darker[Admin’s Note: and Neon Demon] plays Olive Byrne, a wide-eyed, innocent, large cuff bracelet-wearing, student that catches Bill’s eye whilst teaching in the 1920’s. The equally brilliant, Mrs. Elizabeth Marston, played fabulously by Rebecca Hall (Christine, The Prestige) gives Bill the go-ahead to “study” the girl stating that she is his “wife not [his] jailer”. This one scene on the steps of the school begins a torrid, three-way love affair between them with many stops and starts due to social norms of the time.

The film is well-acted, and well-directed by Angela Robinson and often very funny but her script seems relatively unfocused, rushed and poorly edited. There is often no way of telling how much time has passed between scenes and many things seem glossed over or not covered at all. This film is really not interested in comic books or the family unit that Marston created over time. Sure there are scenes of both, but neither feel essential to the film. Oliver Platt plays All-American Publications co-publisher for a few scenes but his scenes are so inconsequential you wonder why they even made the final cut. Most other things about Wonder Woman are told via the interview scenes rather than shown. Marston’s pen name, the fact that he believed girls needed someone to look up to, and that boys needed to learn to respect woman, these are all things we are told about in toss off lines.

Robinson is really interested in is love and sex. Erotic fantasies are given major play in this work from sorority girls in baby outfits, paddling, burlesque costumes and of course, bondage. In the worst scene of the movie Robinson desperately tries to remind you that Wonder Woman, Col. Steve Trevor and the villainess, Cheetah exist while attempting to be erotic. The crowd of my cinema tittered as the Marstons and Byrne consummate their relationship in costumes on a college stage, half dressed in a toga, a cornel’s uniform, and a cheetah print coat. This is not the trio’s only game of dress up in the movie but the heavy-handed attempt to relate it to the characters reeks of desperation and weakens the impact of the already famous trailer shot of Byrne in a Wonder Woman-like burlesque outfit later in the film.

As a person part of the LGBTQI+ community, however, it was spectacular to see a relationship like that of Byrne and Elizabeth. It’s true that they were in love with a man as well who often got more acclaim but they are the heart and soul of the film. The performances of Heathcote and Hall are glorious and among the most convincing love stories I’ve seen in years.

The film to put it simply is a mess. A beautiful mess, with stellar parts but not the film I wished it were. Marston believed in DISC theory, that everyone in life hopes to submit to a “loving dominance” of someone and that complying without submitting is what leads to resentment in our lives… It’s possible that had Robinson submitted to another draft of the screenplay we would have a classic on our hands rather than a film that just passes as alright.



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