One man’s hero­ine habit

Orlando Sentinel - - CALENDAR - By Michael Phillips

“Won­der Wo­man” made $821 mil­lion world­wide, so the tim­ing seems ideal for an in­ti­mately con­nected ori­gin story.

The comic book su­per­heroine’s cre­ator, free­think­ing psy­chol­o­gist Wil­liam Moul­ton Marston, in­tro­duced Won­der Wo­man (ini­tially called Suprema) in De­cem­ber 1941. In spirit as well as ac­ces­sories, the bondage-prone is­land dweller, dreamed up by Marston as “psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­pa­ganda” for a more en­light­ened Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, owed cru­cial el­e­ments of her now-leg­endary per­sona to Marston’s ev­ery­day life.

In that life, Marston served as one-third of a tri­an­gu­lar re­la­tion­ship with his wife and re­search part­ner, El­iz­a­beth Hol­loway Marston, and with Olive Byrne, teach­ing as­sis­tant-turned-lover­turned-long­time part­ner to both. The freely fic­tion­al­ized “Pro­fes­sor Marston and the Won­der Women,” writ­ten and di­rected by An­gela Robin­son, delves into this true story.

It’s a lively and ab­sorb­ing pic­ture, in­tel­li­gently sexy, taste­fully sala­cious but se­ri­ous enough to stick. The film ben­e­fits from Re­becca Hall as El­iz­a­beth, ef­fort­lessly in pe­riod, swig­ging boot­leg hooch out of a sci­ence lab beaker and de­liv­er­ing a with­er­ing glare like no one else. If they gave out No­bel prizes in with­er­ing glares, Hall would have a house­ful.

The tim­ing of this Annapurna Pic­tures project

ideal, with one mas­sive caveat. In Amer­ica, even with all the edg­ily ex­plicit sto­ry­telling on TV, you can say good­bye to half your film’s po­ten­tial profit by of­fer­ing a non­judg­men­tal de­pic­tion of a fully func­tion­ing

Robin­son’s film be­gins in 1945, with a pro­logue de­pict­ing chil­dren and their clean-cut par­ents ra­bidly burn­ing copies of “Won­der Wo­man” in protest. Marston is un­der ques­tion­ing from fel­low psy­chol­o­gist Josette Frank (Con­nie Brit­ton) of the Child Study As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica. Won­der Wo­man comics, she charges, are full of “sex per­ver­sion”: im­ages of bondage, dis­ci­pline, spank­ing and in­ti­ma­tions of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

Marston, played by Luke Evans, doesn’t deny the more ob­vi­ous stuff. But his pub­lisher, played by Oliver Platt, makes it plain: “We gotta cut the kink!” Hop­ping in and out of the 1945 scenes, “Pro­fes­sor Marston and the Won­der Women” goes back to 1928, with the Marstons at Rad­cliffe Col­lege. Marston’s pet the­ory of be­hav­ioral psy­chol­ogy — the DISC the­ory of dom­i­nance, in­duce­ment, sub­mis­sion and com­pli­ance — has at­tracted some at­ten­tion, though his books have not sold well.

One look at his new stu­dent, Olive, played by Bella Heathcote, and Marston’s a goner. He knows it; El­iz­a­beth knows it; soon, Olive knows it too. El­iz­a­beth is like­wise at­tracted to her. The Marstons sneak into Olive’s soror­ity one night and wit­nesses a spank­ing ritual. Di­rec­tor Robin­son treats some of this ma­te­rial a touch solemnly, but the writ­ing and the per­for­mances rec­og­nize the hu­mor in the way th­ese three ar­rive at an un­der­stand­ing.

Even­tu­ally they move in to­gether, and both women have chil­dren by Marston, and the film be­comes a tricky sort of biopic, jug­gling cen­sor­ship de­bates, free speech is­sues and the ter­rors of the Amer­i­can pa­tri­archy. At the same time, the script tries, and gen­er­ally suc­ceeds, in sort­ing out ev­ery­one’s feel­ings, jeal­ousies and yearn­ings for a for­bid­den life.

At one point on the sound­track, the Frank Si­na­tra ver­sion of “East of the Sun” un­der­scores a cozy do­mes­tic scene with hus­band, wife, lover and kids. “We’ll nix the squares!” goes the re­frain. It cap­tures this dis­arm­ing film in a nut­shell. Th­ese three nixed the squares, all right, and fig­ured out their very own de­sign for liv­ing.

MPAA rat­ing: Run­ning time: ANNAPURNA PIC­TURES

Luke Evans, cen­ter, plays the cre­ator of “Won­der Wo­man,” with wife (Re­becca Hall, right) and lover (Bella Heathcote).

R (for strong sex­ual con­tent in­clud­ing brief graphic im­ages, and lan­guage)


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