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Review: ‘Hysteria’

Hysteria, as one person says in the film, “is a disabling condition suffered by 1/2 the women in the city.”

What most of the characters never realize is that said women are just, you know, horny.

Starring Hugh Dancy (currently appearing in the wonderful Venus in Fur on Broadway) and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hysteria is based on the true story of Mortimer Granville and how he came to invent the world’s first electric vibrator.

All in the name of science!

Granville is a modern Doctor. He keeps up with the latest procedures and practices, so much so that when his Boss tells him to re-use a bandage on an elderly patients foot, he loses his job because he refuses. Forced to find new employment, he eventually ends up working for Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), the preeminent Doctor specializing in women’s hysteria. Or, as they pronounce it in the film, “hiss-teer-eea.” Say it to yourself, it makes the word sound so much cooler.

Dalrymple has two daughters and guess what? They are complete opposites! Felicity Jones‘ Emily is sweet and demure and always trying to please Daddy. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Charlotte is a salt-of-the-earth type gal. She’s a modern woman who expects people to be generous and help others in need, as she does. When people, especially her father, don’t do as she wishes, she goes bonkers. Or is it… hysterical? 

Granville begins a relationship with Emily and it looks like his new life of Doctorin’ and starting a family has begun. He gains a reputation of being a master-reliever of the dreaded hysteria and the ladies flock to the office. Soon though, his hand isn’t performing they way it should; hurting and cramping. Gone… limp? He ends up turning away patients which forces Dalrymple to fire him.

His best friend though, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), who is always tinkering with gadgets, may be the key to his woes.

The first part of the film, I quite liked. It had humor and the chemistry between Dancy and Everett was one of the highlights. Those two should star in a period buddy movie. But then, the film grinds to a halt with these awful, pointless courtroom scenes involving one of the characters (I won’t give away who).

I thought I came to see a movie about the invention of the vibrator?

Jones, who was so, so, so, so good in Like Crazy doesn’t have a lot to do here except bat her eyes and look pretty in her Victorian garb.

Gyllenhaal’s Charlotte is just a grating ball of anger most of the film and we never really find out why that is or how she came to be that way. Because her mom died? Her dad didn’t love her enough? Who knows. I didn’t like her character one bit and neither does anyone else in the film (except the poor people she helps – they love her), so when Granville starts to fall for her it’s an absolute mystery as to why.

Dancy is quite good, especially with the low-key comedy of the film, so the fact that this film misses its target doesn’t rest on his shoulders. The film just doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a romantic comedy? A drama? A courtroom drama? Director Tanya Wexler and writers Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer just don’t have that answer.

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