(On TV, February 2019) I’m an enthusiastic and forgiving audience for stories about writers, so it was natural that I’d eventually gravitate to The Rewrite even years after its release. Focused on a washed-up Hollywood screenwriter who takes a teacher’s job in a northeastern university, The Rewrite is, at its best, an entertaining trifle of a comedy/drama with a few pointed jokes at Hollywood, academia and those who make “being a writer” too big a part of their identity. It’s actually the kind of story that begs to be a novel more than a movie, but I’m not about to complain given that it features the ever-likable Hugh Grant in the main role, and my perennial movie-crush Marisa Tomei. A strong supporting cast (J. K. Simmons! Bella Heathcote in a substantial role! Allison Janney!) helps the film get rolling and remain likable throughout. (Well, likable despite the unlikable character played by likable Hugh Grant. It’s that kind of film.) The plot itself is serviceably in thrall to the usual rom-com tropes, albeit with a bit of a harder edge than usual in terms of character growth. The clash of culture between Hollywood and Academia is amusing in its own right, and it feels as if the lead character does earn his happy ending along the way. The Rewrite is nowhere near an essential movie, but it’s likable enough to be worth a look for anyone interested in its lead actors or subject matter. I had a good-enough time watching it.
(On Cable TV, November 2018) I know that celebrity crushes are not a valid component of clever critical assessments, but I do have a big crush on brainy brunette Rebecca Hall, and seeing her pop up as a strong lustful muse in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women checked off an impressive number of boxes in my list of reasons why I had to watch it. As it turns out, it’s a film about one of my favourite bits of comic book history: the remarkably daring origin story of Wonder Woman, as coming from the feverish imagination of an academic with a number of then-unusual fetishes. Wonder no more why Wonder Woman loves detecting lies, strong rope, and a bit of bondage: this was right out of its creator’s own preferences. The bulk of the story takes place during the 1930s, a time not usually known for its free-thinking attitudes. In this context, William Moulton Marston, his legal wife Elizabeth and their polyamorous partner Olive Byrne are people out of time. Driven out of academia after inventing the lie detector but having rumours of their unconventional relationship get around, they make ends meet through various means, until Marston hits upon the idea of vulgarizing their ideas through the medium of comic books. Alas, the story doesn’t have a happy ending … but the way there is unusually interesting, with three strong performances from Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote, as well as skilful screenwriting and direction by Angela Robinson that manages to navigate a tricky topic without falling in exploitation. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is probably doomed to remain unseen and under-appreciated, but I’m glad that it exists—not only as a showcase for Hall (who apparently has good fun in the early parts of the film as a foul-mouthed headstrong woman a few decades ahead of her time), but as a decent illustration of an iconic heroine’s fascinating creation, and a great portrait of freethinkers stuck in a society unable to accept them.