HYSTERIA Review

Movies like Hysteria seem to always surprise me. This conclusion is based on nothing more than the time period in which the story is set. I always assume that anything having to do with the late 1800's or so will be terribly boring (see, it has even affected the way I describe the era) and that a story being told from this time can only be equally as exciting. Excitement, for lack of a better term, is exactly what Hysteria intends to induce though, if not in its audience at least in its characters which in turn relays some pretty good laughs to those of us unsure about what we were walking into in the first place. While the hook here is that the movie tells a story more appropriate to what might be featured on an MTV show today it places these actions in that time period when everything was supposedly so prim and proper. That time where everything private was actually kept that way and an individual prided themselves on their public image. It is funny to watch this, especially in the early scenes where our main character Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is exposed to the practices of his new employer and how they attempt to cover up what they are really doing with fancy medical talk. While it is entertaining to a point the joke quickly wears pretty slim and what we are left with is a pretty standard romantic comedy that is clearly trying to be something more by adding in the restrictions and conventions of the 1880's but instead gives us a few good laughs, a typical Maggie Gyllenhaal character, and a lovely little romance to tie everything up in the end.

Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) and Dr.
Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) are the creators
of the modern vibrator.
That is not to say I didn't enjoy Hysteria for the majority of its running time. I was actually presently surprised by how charming the performances were and how well the film was photographed for such a small, under the radar picture. Director Tanya Wexler has directed two previous features neither of which I'm familiar with, but she shows great flair here for making a light piece with a subject matter that might easily appall yet goes down easy. There is ultimately no real need for fuss around Hysteria as it is a pleasant movie to watch but will likely never be desired as subject matter for day to day conversation. If anything it is an irrelevant film that will be dismissed as quickly as it was consumed. There is an inkling of a great idea here and good measure for plenty of interesting characters, but I have no idea how much of this is actually based on reality or how much has been fictionalized for the film. It is true yes, that Granville invented the electric vibrator but he genuinely seemed to have done this for reasons other than what it has become strictly used for today. You see, in this time period the diagnosis of "hysteria" was pretty much a label that covered all kinds of disorders but when Granville, in desperation to practice real medicine, comes across a job at the practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple he finds that the good doctor has come up with a way to cure these women of their cravings and desires that they believed they should have been absent of. Granville goes into this believing he is simply relieving such mundane things as muscle aches when in reality he is meeting the sexual desires of hundreds of women that are left unsatisfied at home by their husbands who are either unable or unwilling to meet their needs.

Dr. Granville becomes enchanted by his employer's
daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). 
While the premise is rather provocative and the movie itself has a nice tongue-in-cheek attitude about itself, unfortunately for the actors, who really do seem to be enjoying themselves bringing this light romp to the screen, the writing gives them little to do beyond falling into the trappings of those formulaic rom-coms we've all become so accustomed to. Dancy is a wonderful little actor who breathes believability into a man not interested in taking advantage of the women he pleasures daily but is more interested in actually making a difference in peoples lives in a way his schooling has prepared him to do. This regularly puts him out of a job which is how he ends up working under Dalrymple which in turns begins to give him hand cramps because of all the work he is doing. In lieu of this injury the good doctor seeks comfort in one of his friends, the always charmingly reliable Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John Smythe, inventions. Smythe has developed an electrical fan and the vibrations from it give Granville the idea to modify it thus resulting in what we now know as the vibrator. For good measure it is thrown in that Dr. Dalrymple has two lovely daughters in the form of Felecity Jones (Like Crazy) and Gyllenhaal as Charlotte. Granville is naturally attracted to the more reserved and formal Emily (Jones) but I bet you can guess that the more rebellious and strong minded Charlotte will win his heart just from the poster.

Emily (Felecity Jones), Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce),
and Dr. Granville discuss his future with their family.
Gyllenhaal gives a fine performance but really, it feels all the more familiar than it does original these days. She has made a career out of playing the hard-edged, determined woman who will not take no for an answer  and whether it be Stranger Than Fiction, Away We Go, or the upcoming Won't Back Down we feel like we've seen it before and the only saving grace for that upcoming role is the fact she is supported by the likes of Viola Davis. I like Gyllenhaal and think she has serious range as evidenced by the remainder of her resume but she is so drawn to these types of characters that she can't help but be attracted to them and in turn it kind of gives the movie a level of familiarity where it should be an exception to the rule as she is so proclaimed to be in Hysteria. Gyllenhaal is not the overall issue with the film though, it more falls on the fact the idea of the film isn't filled out well enough to support a feature length movie. There is plenty of talent and good performances here though to overcome the issues as I really did have a splendid, care-free time watching the movie, but I was left with little to think about as the credits rolled. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with this but even for a comedy we should be left with some impressions of our favorite jokes or in terms of romantic comedies a longing to know how the lives of our two lovers turned out, but none of that rings true here. I accepted the story for what it was and moved on. Even now, a day later I can hardly remember Gyllenhaal's characters name without having to look it up. It wasn't the intense, personal experience you'd expect from a well-made art house picture but it left me satisfied enough. Which, I guess, works just fine considering its subject matter has the same effect.