Proving that all things come from humble beginnings, Hysteria tells the “true” story of the invention of the vibrator, firstly used as an instrument to cure women of the titular disease “hysteria”. For all the cheekiness and risqué humour the premise lends itself to, Hysteria unfortunately ends up a moderately enjoyable tale that never really manages to…. hit the spot.
Starting with cringe inducing exposition, Hugh Dancy plays Dr. Mortimer Granville a modern man (as much as you can be in the 19th century) frustrated with work places that refuse to embrace modern medicine. The only place that is willing to employ him, is the practice of Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) which specifies in helping the wealthy women with their “hysteria” by stimulating nerves to release tension in the uterus. If you know what I mean. Dalrymple’s daughters couldn’t be more different with Emily (Felicity Jones) being the perfect lady whilst brash and aggressive Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the shame of the family.
The script doesn’t rise to the occasion of all the fun everyone seems to be having, taking far too long to… get going (oh yes, there will be more puns). The narrative and dialogue is very by the book, with actors forced to do their best to give their characters more depth than a clichéd script allows with moderating success. There’s even a rousing speech in a court room during the film’s… climax where the film’s message is explained while every possible character in the film watches on with misty eyes. The jokes too don’t land as often as they’re thrown with an over reliance on hindsight humour, trying to make the audience laugh at out-dated medicine, technology and treatment of women. For anyone familiar with the play In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (one title) will see the huge amount of similarities, both covering the same text, and will likely find Hysteria far less… stimulating.
The cast is strong thankfully with Hugh Dancy proving a charming leading man who looks dapper in period attire, and Felicity Jones as the sweet reserved Emily is a wonderfully explorative performance proving her young shooting star status. Gyllenhaal plays the characters she’s done a million times already, the tough, strong willed, takes-no-bullshit lass who speaks her mind, and she does it well albeit with a pretty dodgy English accent. Rupert Everett also appears as a wealthy friend of Mortimer able to provide the electronic aid to really get… sparks flying. He also seems wealthy enough to have received Botox and plastic surgery well ahead of its invention.
Whilst still a pleasurable experience for film goers, they won’t be likely to be screaming for more, rather a resigned “I’ve had better”.
Hysteria is released in Australian cinemas on July 12th
Director: Tanya Wexler
Cast: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett and Jonathan Pryce