[I tried to be as un-spoilery as possible, but it’s difficult to review a film without revealing things about it.]
Romance is generally a genre of story that is deeply wedded to its formulas. Not that there aren’t exceptions in romantic films, but a lot of times if you walk into one, you know what you’re getting and it’s what you’re there for. (Like cheesy action flicks.)
Biopics are similar, just in that, if you go in knowing and liking the person the movie is about, you probably already know at least part of the story you’re about to be told.
It’s always refreshing, and somewhat unnerving, to walk into a film about a person you find interesting and know the general outlines and to be not at all sure how the film will handle its subjects or themes.
I was nervous going into Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. I was delighted by the time I came out. The film’s advantages of centering around a non-traditional romance and telling a story about the relationship and their lives instead of the relationship as their lives set it up to break out of any dramatic romance formulae.
It succeded in being very romantic. Also funny, sexy and dramatic by turns. That two of the real-life folks from which whose lives were drawn the story of the film were badass female academics who were allowed to be strong on screen, and angry, and off-putting pretty much guaranteed that the film would be at least half a win for me. But I was blindsided by my investment in the relationship and interior lives of these three people. I didn’t expect to be crying tears of joy for their successes. I did, though.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women almost reads as a fanfic AU – which I mean in the nicest of ways. It explores problems for unusual people who choose an unusual lifestyle without making the narrative into a moralistic or denigrating tale. It does such a fantastic job of painting its characters early on that you feel like you know them well by the time their biggest troubles hit. I know that both the complexities of the story and the ever after that we get to see in the film are taken from real life, but I did not expect them to be portrayed with such interest and sympathy.
My respect for Rebecca Hall as an actress grows in every film I see her in. She shines in this as the mercurial and brilliant Elizabeth Marston. The film gives her room to be all the things she is – wildly intelligent, bitterly angry at the limitations imposed by her gender roles, defensive of her position, insecure and boastful by turns. And she takes all these qualities and delivers a performance of great depth. The film also allows Marston (who, in spite of the film’s name, does not feel like the film’s primary focus) to be unusual in his own way: deeply invested in emotions, communicative, thoughtful and a great advocate for the rights of women. Bella Heathcote, who plays the pair’s lover, has a quieter kind of strength, but is not portrayed as lesser because of it.
I was captivated by Angela Robinson’s portrayal of complex people and the warm lense through which she invited the viewer into their bond. I think it’s rare in film to see a three-way sex scene portrayed with such emotion and connection as in this film. I adored her work and will be seeking out more of her films in the future.
If you’re in this looking for a deep exploration of Wonder Woman and the creative process behind her inception, this movie will only give you a taste of what you want, but if you’re looking for a deep and moving story about unconventional people, you should definitely check it out.