This is an unusual title to review on the website—but hey, what the hell. Hysteria is a charming and witty British story that informs about the “truth” behind the invention of the vibrator and how women were often accused of hysteria for, well, being typical women I guess. The wits and intention of the telling is good but its footing doesn’t come quite clear ‘till too late, making it a dull experience too often.
Hysteria an époque story taking place in the late 1800s’ London and tells the story about the amusing outcomes leading to the invention of the first personal vibrator. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a young and ambitious doctor seeking work—any work. This leads him to meet his future employer, a doctor who investigates multiple cases of hysteria in middle-aged women using “pelvic-massage” as a treatment. This is how it sounds, and it gets quite whimsical. Sharing this practice, he meets the two young daughters of his new boss, both with very distinguished personalities. The most important of these, Charlotte Dalrymple (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the most “volatile” but also the one which whom Granville shares most values with.
The methods in which Granville is shown to “treat” these middle-aged and nagging women is by having a usual procedure which involves these lovely ladies lying down on a table, legs spread and massaging the feminine area. In other words, he had to pleasure them. In those times, this was believed to cure some cases of partial hysteria in women and thinking that pleasure had nothing to do with the treatment (although the ladies weren’t complaining). Cases after cases, Granville succumbs to his own beliefs being disrupted and finds himself leaning between many differences of opinion and his own integrity as an aspiring doctor.
Besides questioning the lightness of these events, the movie does an awesome job at putting all this in a humorous way. Most of the jokes were obviously meant to please an older generation of women who pretty much laugh at anything, making it seem they’ve never seen a comedy before. But, Hysteria rests on a lot of snappy and clever gags mainly thanks to the actor’s execution, and of course, its British backdrop.
While it seems the main story line poorly interlaced with a secondary pivotal arc, making the point of the movie fall flat near the end. Not having the themes fully explored, it serves a poor statement for what it tried to be at the beginning. Many of the “treatment” scenes turned from funny to awkward by the end and made the new and enticing element of the movie into “not wanting to watch large and old women come on-screen”.
Hugh Dancy has an adorable on-camera charisma and it’s hard to deny him that. Not because he’s a remarkable actor, quite the contrary. He just knows how to do his thing and that’s fine. So, ladies, we are lucky. Guys, not so much; Maggie Gyllenhaal is just not a believable person—not actress, but person. She has zero chemistry with the protagonist and to see her representing women’s right acting like an ass just makes it worst. Her real brother would make a better woman than her if just put a wig and a little make-up on. Rupert Everett on the other side is just fantastically funny and charming as hell. He steals the spotlight during every little screen time he gets as Dancy’s friend.
With many predictable outcomes and a forced love story in there, Hysteria still has an interesting premise but just fails to carefully unravel all its knots. The quips are unbalanced throughout the story and its conclusion is kinda boring due to the superficiality of the main theme. Still a good watch, but too many things are in the way to call this an extraordinaire comedy. A good and somewhat pleasing effort.
Theatrical release date: May 25th 2012