Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)

“Nobody will ever publish this.”

For as much as I anticipated this true story of a film, I knew within the first minute that I needed to check this Oscar-baited luggage rather than carry it on a near two-hour flight. Many biopic features reassure us with an opening title card that normally reads, “Based on a True Story.” If believing is seeing, then that line sure is a solid precursor. However, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tacks on a dot dot dot and tangential ellipsis which not only discredits the biopic’s veracity, but suspends its own credibility without showing the skill to likewise suspend our belief. The film can be interesting, it’s hopelessly timely, and it features three commanding performances, but none of that can salvage a story so broad and opaque. The overbearing title alone is a red flag signaling the inescapable high tide to come. It lacks focus, and as a by-product with a missing rib, shows little to no confidence.

The scholarly and steady Professor William Marston (Luke Evans) is married to Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a neurotic and abrasive intellectual who can’t earn her rightful degree from Harvard. As such, she’s the easily combustible fluid stoking Will’s flame, and she’s the smarter one of the two, although far less focused. Then all of their eyes turn towards the tremulous and dutifully gorgeous teacher’s assistant Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcoate). Her dilettante demeanor and wary eyes sell the role completely, and it allows us to buy into a threesome that’s been packaged as an overwhelming love triangle when in reality the affair bordered on polygamy. Even as the film progresses, and as we see it refuse to confront the harsh reality that such a confluence of bizarre relationships would beget, writer/director Angela Robinson doesn’t shoot the film with a particular tone in mind, but instead focuses on scenarios driven by actors. Robinson’s work ins’t horrible per say, and yet it’s missing personality behind the lens. You wouldn’t collect three performances of this caliber to waste them without proper direction, which I won’t say occurs, but they’re also undoubtedly playing second-fiddle to an inscrutable theme.

Professor Marston, while entertaining and informative, can’t escape from the punishable offense it commits with the sore structure of its narrative. Invisibly leaping between time periods at light speed, the film hardly ever lacks visual believability – the costumes and the set designs are enveloping while the characters never visibly age – but instead audiences become displaced on a character level. This is a haphazardly made biopic that’s been told with an endless supply of mulligans, teeing off from one point and another and another, bound to and damaged by scope. Early on it becomes apparent that this story is simply too ambitious for its own good, and the style of such rich material so badly needed to divorce itself from a rigid and predictable feature. It’s a boring statue instead of a mold.

For a film about Wonder Woman’s kinky, exploratory, and perverse origins, Professor Marston makes you stiff for all of the wrong reasons. Angela Robinson knows how to elevate the blood pressure of her cast (and all too rarely) her audience; during a pivotal scene, when conflict becomes undressed by desire, the performers rely on bodily movements and eye twitches to the degree that we still take their skill for granted. It’s great work in front of the camera directed by mediocre work behind. And still, regardless of its promising production design or its lackluster story credibility, Professor Marston decides to juggle more tangents than it can possibly begin to handle. A movie like this one briefly succeeds and sails on the coattails of its stars, all before running into a rut of lethargic monotony. The rights barely outweigh the wrongs.

“How are you going to learn anything about life if you refuse to live it?”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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