Title: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director/Writer: Angela Robinson
Music: Tom Howe
Cinematography: Bryce Fortner
It is always, always, always (one cannot emphasize this enough) encouraging and invigorating to see studio-backed movies dare to coping with subject matters that are controversial, unconventional and/or countercultural. Here comes this biopic about the creator of Wonder Women comic strips, professor William Moulton Marston (Evans), and the based-on-true-story (which is open to interpret but who cares about that apart from those real-life characters’ descendants) inspiration relative to two women, his wife Elizabeth (Hall) and a former student Oliver Byrne (Heathcote).
What director Angela Robinson (her third feature film after a decade long stint in the TV department) has in her script is a polyamorous relationship further spiced up by lesbianism and sadomasochism, each transgression of the triumvirate can single-handedly stir a big splash to challenge the social norm at its time (20s-4os of last century), not to mention the whole package, which may explain why Robinson intentionally dials down the volume of the story’s sexual contents and relationship intrigues, to a point of dangerously dumbing them down for fear of repelling ticket buyers. A false worry because those who are not put off by its subjects simply couldn’t be a prude.
Its dialogue has a simple elucidating function to lay bare characters’ inner thoughts right on the table, like through the gizmo of lie detector, it leaves nothing to imagination, because if these three persons are brave enough to soldier on with their special relationship against the whole world, there should something in their veins that doesn’t comply with the banality of a common soul, in another word, they should have been limned as more multifaceted and sophisticated beings, but through the ups-and-downs of their life journey, the film opts for a more smooth sailing in its unfolding, the three leads are competent enough but the overall outcome is somewhat anodyne, why may validate its measly box office receipts because word-of-mouth wasn’t essentially actuated.
Still, it is an eye-pleasing period film carried off with Robinson’s gentle, well-intentioned female touch (the soft-focused, soft-core sex sequences, for instance), what is worth noting is that the linchpin to hold the triad together or tear it apart is not the male party, but the female one, namely, Elizabeth, who has undergone a dramatic self-denial to finally embrace her sapphic predisposition, and ironically countering her self-purported feminist, modernist standpoint, it is her that balks, halts en route and imperils their homeostasis whenever impediments materialize (a lazy plot including a snooty neighbor intruding right during their threesome bandage role-play), Rebecca Hall, as amazing as always, acquits herself well with what she is proffered; on the other hand, Luke Evans, who is magnanimously disposed to retreat from the limelight to his petticoat co-stars whenever the film requires, and Bella Heathcote, looks stunning in her tailor-made costume and imparts a touch of contradictory air against her ingénue comportment.
In truth, it is a story needs to reach those troglodytes who are not within the picture’s niche demography, so in the light of that purpose, Robinson’s toned-down approach might be viewed as a sensible halfway house even at the expense of a film’s own distinction, if it can change one person to become more tolerant towards those who hold a different view and lead a different lifestyle, that is an immeasurable achievement which advances humanity onto the next step.
referential point: Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN (2017, 7.1/10).