Fantastic Fest Review/Interview: PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Under the pen name Charles Moulton, Dr. William Moulton Marston is best known as the creator of comic book character Wonder Woman and also has received notoriety for inventing the lie detector machine.  Even though Marston did encounter controversy because of his inclusion of bondage and submission themes in the Wonder Woman comics, the most controversial aspect of his life was something he managed to keep mostly secret.  Written and directed by Angela Robinson, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells this captivating and unconventional love story about the creator of Wonder Woman and the two extraordinary women who inspired him.

While teaching and doing research at Harvard University, Professor Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) meet the smart and remarkable Olivia Byrne (Bella Heathcote) whom they hire as their office assistant.  As Marston teaches his unorthodox psychological DISC theory of dominance and submission, the three of them bond over their work on the lie detector test and the relationship eventually develops into a three-way romance.  The complications of this relationship, including the negative reactions from those who discovered the truth, presents many challenges to the Marstons who wish to maintain their non-traditional, but loving family.  Marston’s life experiences, psychological theories and the impact of his women and their feminist ideals would highly influence his Wonder Woman comic and the iconic character who would inspire women for many future decades.

Writer/director Angela Robinson has truly outdone herself with this truly compelling and incredible movie.  Robinson does an outstanding job of developing her characters and presenting this unusual story with much elegance and intellect.  Robinson superbly uses key aspects of Marston’s life and theories to tell his story and present him and his loves as real people with genuine emotions and desires.  These are obviously unconventional people, way ahead of their time, but their highly personal passions and ambitions deserve a chance, despite the unforgiving and judgmental nature of the society surrounding them.

The movie also can boast tremendous performances by the three lead cast members, who all deserve nominations during awards season.  As Marston, Luke Evans performs with much passion, dedication and magnetism.  Rebecca Hall once again shines brightly as the austere and headstrong Elizabeth Holloway Marston, a highly intelligent and determined woman who faces much sexism in both the educational and occupational spheres and often the voice of reason to Marston’s whims and Olivia’s heart.  Bella Heathcote is absolutely wonderful as the smart, sweet and open-hearted Olivia Byrne, the young woman whose brains, beauty and loving nature captures the hearts of both Marstons.  The film also features great performances by Connie Britton, JJ Feild, and Oliver Platt.

In addition to any award nominations the actors might receive, I would love to see writer/director Angela Robinson get some attention as well.  She has not only crafted one of the better films of Fantastic Fest 2017, but also one of the top films of the year.  After attending a Fantastic Fest screening where it was received wonderfully, I was able to sit down with Robinson who talked about how she was inspired to make this movie and what she learned in the process.  I asked her how she discovered this truly incredible story.  Robinson stated, “A friend of mine gave me this book on the history of Wonder Woman there was this chapter on them (the Marstons and Olivia Byrne).  It wasn’t very long, but it had all the details in and I was just floored by it.  I just came across this story and become obsessed with it.”

In addition to writing and directing an excellent film, Robinson managed to accomplish a major feat by shooting it in 25 days.  I was rather impressed by this and had to ask her how she managed to pull it off.  “I had and incredible crew,” Robinson said, “who cut their rates, as they believed in the script, but it was really, really hard.  I was also able to do this because the actors were so extraordinary and so on board.  They were so committed.  I also had years and years of indie movie experience and I had done tons of television directing where you had to move fast to get what you wanted with only two or three takes.”

During the Q&A at the festival screening, Robinson stated that in making this movie she came to the realization that the world still has a long way to go in accepting non-traditional relationships, achieving gender equality and eliminating prejudice.  I asked her about her feelings regarding these problems within Hollywood and the filmmaking world.  Robinson said, ” I think from the outside, Hollywood is considered a really progressive place, and I suppose it is, but I feel it is still an institution.  There’s a ton of institutional sexism, racism, and I feel that Hollywood has a long way to go.  I feel that if you’re in a progressive community, it is easy to rest on your laurels.  There are still all kinds of unconscious bias–a lot of barriers still.”

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is due in theaters October 13, 2017 and it is a movie I highly recommend.  It would make for a fascinating biopic second feature after watching Wonder Woman which is now available on digital, DVD, and Blu ray.  I also recommend the documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.

 

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