The story of psychologist William Moulton Marston, the polyamorous relationship between his wife and his mistress, the creation of his beloved comic book character Wonder Woman, and the controversy the comic generated.
Details the unconventional life of Dr. William Marston, the Harvard psychologist and inventor who helped invent the modern lie detector test and created Wonder Woman in 1941. Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth, a psychologist and inventor in her own right, and Olive Byrne, a former student who became an academic. This relationship was key to the creation of Wonder Woman, as Elizabeth and Olive's feminist ideals were ingrained in the character from her creation. Marston died of skin cancer in 1947, but Elizabeth and Olive remained a couple and raised their and Marston's children together. The film is said to focus on how Marston dealt with the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman's creation.
Though promoted as "the true story" of William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne, most of this film is speculative as the Marstons' lived their lives in privacy. At the 2017 New York Comic Con, Angela Robinson was asked by Travis Langley, a friend of the Marston family, and said that she "talked to a source who said that that was her interpretation, who had studied them. chose to tell the story as my interpretation of the story, and I think that there's a lot of facts that are indisputable about the Marstons and I feel that there's a lot that's open to interpretation. So as a filmmaker, this was my interpretation of their story." See more »
In a scene set in 1928, the three principal characters have a threesome while the song "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone is playing, which wasn't released until 1965. See more »
fascinating, typical, excellent performances, unique subject matter, OK production
Professor Marston & the Wonder Women is an example where the subject matter surpasses the quality of the filmmaking. There's absolutely nothing *wrong* with Angela Robinson's direction here (her script is a little better, at least in the first half, at creating a specific time and place which is the academia of the late 20's and early 1930's), but there's also nothing that distinguishes it from other movies, or with the kind of musical score that chimes in at just the right cues and markers for emotional punch. What distinguishes it, however, is its story and that in the three leads - Evans, Hall and Heathcote - Robinson finds actors who are game to dig into some juicy melodrama with a deliciously sexual bent... or rather, that's not totally true. This is showing that what was deemed as sexual deviancy and even criminal behavior for a time (being homosexual or bi-sexual or what have you) was as normal as everyday love and heterosexual-monogamous sex. It's everyone else's reactions - the neighbors and Child-Psychologist woman that makes up the framing device for the story
that gives the wrong perceptions.
I don't know if this is true to life really, but then what is exactly (I'd put this right in the same league as, say, Hidden Figures, and I'd doubt that to be so true to life across the board); what matters is if a certain spirit of the time and period can be captured, and at the very least Robinson does that. A lot of the character development and interactions between William and Elizabeth and Olive at its most compelling reminded me of the (underrated/underseen) Showtime series Masters of Sex, which was also about the clashes with intellectuals and sex and what the limits are and how to go past them. Of course that was just the surface of that show, but much of what went on there with Masters and Johnson I found reflected here, that style of dialog and interactions where these distinct personalities come up against one another and how... well, love comes into play.
Ironic that one of Marston's granddaughters denounced the film saying that it was completely inaccurate, since one of the things that comes up in the story is what it means to have a private relationship (or, in the case of Marston and his wife and Olivia, relationships plural, a true triangle where everyone loved everybody), and that a society that often prides itself on being private will break that and be condescending and even (in the case of their kids) violent if it comes down to it. I also liked how Robinson shot the sexual pieces, which are few or even only a couple of times, but distinct for the music choices (very bluesy, nothing at all modern, refreshing in that sense), and when Olivia somehow via the, uh, bondage store owner comes into the Wonder Woman costume... and then Marston takes it a step further with the ropes and bondage and so on.
This isn't a groundbreaking document relating to Wonder Woman, however, and in fact despite this device (ala Social Network and countless other biopics) that has William in the hot-seat under threat of the comic being cancelled, Diana Prince doesn't come into it until the second half of the movie. I liked that though; there's plenty of time to get to know these three people (and, briefly, Olivia's fiancée), and then showing the use of the lie detector in its earliest incarnation, which Marston also created (but didn't patent, I think the movie tells us?) When it loses its footing for me is actually in the second half, though only a little, since the focus in the first seemed to be equally the three leads - with Hall being the stand-out, in part since Elizabeth is written as someone who can't not be the inspiration in some way for Wonder Woman - whereas in the second it's more on William, until the last couple of scenes.
Those final moments do bring some strong pathos for us, and it gives the movie closure as far as it being more about this trio and how strong their love was. Again, who knows if it's true at all or a lot of BS. Does it work as a movie though? Mostly it does, and I think it serves as not only a companion piece to Masters of Sex but to other, er, idiosyncratic movies that dance with light and dark themes of sex like Gyllenhall in Hysteria some years back. or to a lessor extent Kinsey. Even, or especially, the scenes where the three are lie-detcting one another have a sensual, ethereal quality that Robinson can grasp, not to mention Heathcote could get more work from this role if she's seen by the right people. If only she was more distinctive as a visual stylist.
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