If you’re into lesbian cinema, then you’ve probably heard of Angela Robinson. Her profile has recently expanded; long after blessing us with the likes of D.E.B.S. and Girltrash!, the writer-director went mainstream last year with her vastly under-appreciated Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. (You can read our LFF review of the film here.)
At Much Ado About Cinema, we cherish LGBTQ+ film, and queer cinema is a core foundation of our lives. Robinson is an example of a filmmaker who constantly centres lesbian/bisexual women in her stories, and produces these stories in a way that often makes us feel validated and genuinely represented – she is a brilliant example of why LGBT stories are told best by LGBT people. Whether it’s through comedic parodies or psychosexual dramas, we’ll be following Robinson’s career wherever she chooses to go. If you’re new to her work, take a gander at the profile below: you’ve got a whole lot to catch up on.
The Cult Classic: D.E.B.S.
The first time I watched D.E.B.S., I was a baby lesbian attending a gay women’s film screening. I had been warned. The film I was about to watch was cheesy, predictable, and entirely tongue-in-cheek. I would also become obsessed with it, and require a rewatch at least once per year for good health.
The warnings of the elder lesbians were all correct. D.E.B.S. is a complete and utter treasure. A parody of spy films, the story revolves around a group of young women who are part of a secret paramilitary academy. Their mission is to take down super-villain Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster). The twist? She’s a lesbian, and ends up falling in love with one of the heroes. The feature-length film was released in 2004, as an expansion of the 2003 short which roughly follows the same storyline, but in truncated format. The short is available online to watch, so if you’re looking for a taster, you have no excuse.
I’ve written written about this before, but the best thing about D.E.B.S. is the joyful humour. Robinson never takes her material too seriously, and in a world where most lesbian characters find themselves killed off or eternally miserable, a self-aware parody is a welcome change. This feels like a film that lesbian audiences can simply enjoy without the weight of oppression on our minds – for once, we’re allowed the cheesy film where the girl gets the girl. It’s the kind of film that I’m proud to show younger lesbians when they rightfully complain about the lack of good lesbian cinema out there; we may not have mountains of great rom-coms, but we’ll always have D.E.B.S.
The Box Office Hit: Herbie Fully Loaded
Last week, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time hit $100 million at the US box office. Duvernay tweeted her wish for “more sisters” to join her, and gave a shout out to Robinson, whose 2005 family comedy Herbie Fully Loaded crossed the $100 million line (combined domestic and international) over a decade ago.
The sixth film in a long-spanning franchise, Herbie Fully Loaded is a film that is incredibly settled within its time. The early-mid 2000s brought an influx of sanitised comedy, bad CGI, and Lindsey Lohan in incredibly similar roles. Herbie follows this recipe to the letter – but that’s not a bad thing. When it comes to pleasing casual family audiences, sometimes an entertaining, inoffensive film with a kick of liberal feminism is exactly what you need.
Lohan plays Maggie, a car-obsessed girl who comes from a family of racing legends. Though she is leaving for the bright lights of the city after summer is over, her true dream is to race as the men in her family do, and have always done. The only problem? Her dad refuses to let her back on the track, terrified by an accident Maggie had years before. This is where Herbie, a sentient VW Beetle, comes in. Together the pair make up the ultimate underdog team – a small car with a big attitude, and a reckless teenage girl ready to take on the pre-suppositions of the world.
Ultimately, Herbie Fully Loaded is no critical darling, but this is a film that doesn’t need to appeal to everyone in order to satisfy its purpose. Its place as a fun, charming movie is evidenced best by its box office achievement, and its place on Robinson’s filmography only extends her range, proving her ability to take on huge projects successfully.
The Big Screen Drama: Professor Marston
One of last year’s most underrated films, Professor Marston is a biographical drama concerning the creator of Wonder Woman. Whilst the creator of the legendary comic book character was a man (the eponymous Professor Marston), Robinson’s story chooses to focus on his relationship with his wife, Elizabeth, and their lover Olive. Yep, that wasn’t a grammatical error; this is a film about a polyamorous relationship, which is an impressive feat within itself.
The oppositional dynamics of the women make for a brilliant romance, with Marston a calm, steady influence between the two: the relationship feels natural and is portrayed beautifully, never fetishistic despite the sexual nature of many scenes. Whilst D.E.B.S. is pure parody, and Herbie relies on the childlike humour of the intended audience, Professor Marston takes its characters incredibly seriously, painting their wants, needs and emotions with a humanistic shade.
Unfortunately, despite positive reviews, a great cast and an enticing hook, Professor Marston couldn’t quite find its audience, and left theatres having made little box office impact. The film is now widely available on DVD and Blu Ray, where it will hopefully discover a deserved success – we suggest treating yourself to a copy. (Be sure to let us know what you think!)
Girltrash & Other Work
Unfinished, low-budget and shot mostly in black-and-white, Girltrash may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re into Robinson’s style. The same tongue-in-cheek lesbian-based comedy that D.E.B.S. boasts is found once more in this web series, which introduces the characters of Tyler and Daisy, two small-time crooks living in Los Angeles. Tyler is the smooth-talking lothario who always has a girl or five on her arm, whilst Daisy is her long-suffering, sardonic best friend. The pair genuinely feel like people you meet amongst the lesbian community, and this is part of their unique charm; they’re notably relatable to us, and it feels heartwarming to be able to laugh at their antics.
Robinson’s reach does not end there, as she’s also worked on multiple TV series, including The L Word (here is your excuse to rewatch), Hung, and True Blood. She’s described her Hollywood experience as almost universally positive, helped along by a supportive LGBT community who have assisted in advancing her career. Recently, she was invited to join the academy, a brilliant achievement that is inspirational for any young gay woman looking to get involved in the industry. Robinson’s work and her experiences prove that there is great happiness, joy and success in being a lesbian – and for that, we cannot thank her enough.