Quick Hit: Polyamorous relationships, lie detectors, and Wonder Woman – all in a delicately shot bouquet.
I, for one, did not know exactly what I was getting into with Professor Marston. With the huge advent of the third spoke in the DC Comics Trinity, a large amount of the population was introduced to Wonder Woman’s kinky beginnings last year. And yet, though the film has a large amount of sexuality, it’s secondary to the romance between the parties – much like we covered with Boogie Nights, it’s a movie about kinks, but not necessarily solely them on screen.
Luke Evans stars as William Marston, a psychology professor working on DISC (Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance) theory with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). They hire on a Teacher’s Assistant named Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) and promptly their idea of what a relationship can be expands to include a relationship with multiple partners, as well as kinks like bondage and roleplay. The film also explores the new Marston family’s relationship with the world in the late 1940s, which was a much less tolerant time.
There are two aspects to this movie that are well worth watching, and a few elements that I think are sub-standard. Let’s start, as usual, with the positives. First, I really enjoyed the way the film was shot. It brought romantic and sexual tension to the movie, well before anything physical was happening with the actors. The use of the lie detector (which Marston and his wife invented) as a means to move the plot forward between the character’s was an act of genius. Some of the best scenes in the movie (and coincidentally, the best sound work as well featuring the little scratching needle) involve that little device. But what’s most effective about the way the film is shot is that it doesn’t paint Olive, Elizabeth, and William as extreme deviants. Instead, it paints them as pioneers and explorers that led us to a place where the mainstream public could accept something like 50 Shades of Grey.
The second aspect of the movie that is impressive is the lead acting, particularly between Hall and Heathcote. It’s fantastic, and they leave Evans, who actually does an admirable job (yes, he of the Dracula Untold – that’s a little unfair, I actually really like Evans as an actor, and everyone has one bad movie on their resume) in the dust. The character’s tension is palpable almost immediately, when the Marston’s are psychoanalyzing Olive from a distance. Hall is given so much of the dirty English mouth, with lines like “We can’t f*** in the library” that give her a lot of personality and action. Olive is her direct foil, nearly all poise and grace, and that Ying/Yang quality is exactly what attracts William (“Together, you’re the perfect woman”). This concept, which is appealed to throughout the film, is what drives a lot of the conflict between the characters, and is very well done.
There are, however, some aspects that are lacking. I thought we had a few too many montage like scenes. The last third of the movie, concerning Wonder Woman’s actual creation, flies by and isn’t very grounded. I also disliked the staging device of having Marston being interviewed by a panel as we see the scenes of his life. It felt cheap, and there isn’t ever any payoff – ie, we never find out what the panel decided regarding the Wonder Woman comic. The score is also fairly unremarkable, but it’s not bad.
So, Professor Marston is a solid film, but it probably won’t knock your socks off. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"