Review: 'Professor Marston and the Wonder Women' And the Importance of a Diverse Review Staff
Warning: This is a movie that Tori, Kristy, or Rebecca should have reviewed for the site, but Tori was out of town, and Kristy and Rebecca had been assigned the review for other outlets. I don’t typically do this, but I suggest that you read their reviews of the film instead of mine — they both loved it (Here’s Kristy’s and here’s Rebecca’s). I’m not really the right person to review this film, and for those who might say that a “good critic should be able to review any film,” I say: Fuck off. I mean, yes, sure, I can review this film, and I will, but it also makes more sense to assign a review to someone with a stated interest in the material or someone who is closer to it. This is not my wheelhouse. That’s why it’s so important to have a diverse staff — you want to be able to have someone reviewing the film who reflects the demographic for that film.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is decidedly a Kristy and Rebecca movie. Like, I watched it and I thought: Oh My God, I bet Kristy and Rebecca loved this film! And they did! There were elements of the film, in fact, where I thought, “Oooh. This is something Kristy would appreciate,” or “Oh yeah, Rebecca would totally be into that” (don’t worry, though, there’s no bread fucking).
I liked it, but I didn’t love it. But it’s not entirely because I’m a man (although, that may be part of it), and it’s not entirely because I’m not a huge Wonder Woman fan (a passion for Wonder Woman and comic books probably would help), and it’s not entirely because I dislike period piece (although, that too!). Part of it is because I’m a prude. I mean, I am all for two men loving each other, or two women loving each other, but polyamory hits a weird nerve. Not in an icky way — trust me, there is nothing icky about Professor Marston — but in a “that can’t possibly work, can it?” kind of way. I’m a monogamist and I’m a big believer in it, and for whatever reason, Professor Marston made me feel super out of touch. This movie is set in the 1930s and 40s, and it still made me feel like a backwards hillbilly for not readily buying into the possibility that three people can love each other equally.
But they can! In fact, they did! Professor Marston is based on the actual life of the Wonder Woman creator, William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall) and their partner Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). Marston and his wife developed the original prototype for the lie detector. Marston was a psychology professor and his wife was his research partner; they popularized the DISC theory. They were awesome, super progressive people not only for the 1930s and 40s, but for today. They ultimately brought a teaching assistant, Olive (the niece of Margaret Sanger), into their relationship, and while there were certainly some issues (mostly owing to the way the outside world shunned them), it worked for them. They were into free love, and bondage, and domination, and those themes — as well as their need to hide their identities from the outside world — ultimately worked their way into the Wonder Woman comic book.
It’s a fascinating story, but I found Angela Robinson’s telling of it to be a little perfunctory. The first two acts of Professor Marston largely center on the developing relationship between the threesome, and the three-way sex notwithstanding, I found it somewhat rote and predictable. The way it unfolds is slow as molasses, and I found myself occasionally checking out. It’s only in the last act when they come up with the idea for Wonder Woman that the film seems to gain much in the way of momentum.
This is also the best performance I have ever seen of Luke Evans, but charm still eludes him. He bores me. He’s a cold guy, and given how much warmth, passion, and chemistry there is between Hall and Heathcote, he feels like something akin to a third wheel. Marston also suffers somewhat from biopic syndrome: They try to fit 30 years of their lives into under two hours, and it means a lot of their story — in this case, the creation of Wonder Woman — gets short shrift.
But I still liked the movie, and I love knowing about their story, of which I had no prior knowledge. It’s good in the way that a Merchant Ivory film (with more three-way sex) is; it’s just not for me. If your tastes align better with Kristy or Rebecca, however, there’s a very good chance you will love it and, again, I recommend you read their reviews before making a decision about seeing the film — either one would have been perfect to review this film; they (and Tori) just happened not to be available this one time.
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