Watching Resolution: “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (2017)

5. A film based on a true story: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)

List Progress: 5/12

There’s nothing more frustrating than an inconsistent movie. The things that Professor Marston and the Wonder Women does well are done exceptionally well. The weak spots aren’t terrible, but they are so much lesser than the highs that they become glaring. Some things that this movie does very, very well: cinematography, blocking of romance and sex scenes, chemistry between queer women.

The movie definitely gets extra points because some of those things are quite rare in cinema, but these are some of the things it fails at: chemistry between men and women, pay-offs for plot threads, anything directly to do with the publishing of comics. And in a  biopic about the polyamorous relationship of William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, those are some fairly glaring failures.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) is a biopic telling the supposedly true story of psychologist and professor William Moulton Marston, the inventor of both the lie detector machine and the Wonder Woman comics, and his relationship with his wife, fellow psychologist Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their mutual lover Olive Byrne. The degree to which this is a true story is fairly debated and refuted by one of the Marstons’ grandchildren, but no matter what the arrangement, the three did live together for many years and Marston fathered two children each with Elizabeth and Olive. The film presents the three of them in a polyamorous triad, with Elizabeth and Olive just as involved with each other, if not more so, than they were with William. And that is where some of the issues with the film come up.

Rebecca Hall in the role of Elizabeth Marston is magnetic, and she has amazing chemistry with Bella Heathcote’s Olive. The way it is presented, this feels like Elizabeth and Olive’s love story…and William is also there. Neither the writing, the acting from Luke Evans, nor the cinematography give William as much care and he ends up feeling like an afterthought despite being the supposedly main character. This may go a way towards explaining why so much time is spent on him being inspired to create Wonder Woman, but very, very little time on how he actually went about writing and publishing the comic books. The framing device of the film has him in an interview with a moral guardian trying to defend the bondage and BDSM themes and imagery in the early Wonder Woman comics, but it serves as little more than a way to get us into the flashbacks, without providing much insight into him itself.

I wish that I could complain that more movies favored their female characters to the detriment of the male ones, but in a film that is trying to portray a balanced, equal triad, it is somewhat disappointing.

There is a lot to like here, and I want to see infinitely more period pieces about polyamorous queer relationships through the ages. “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” does not quite hit the mark, but I would be thrilled if it starts a trend.

Would I Recommend It: Despite its faults, yes.

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