Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hysteria Review

In today's movie landscape, summertime is for cinematic tentpoles. Big action. Brand names. Superheroes. So it's hard to find in the season a romantic comedy. Make that even rarer to find a Victorian era romantic comedy. But like a blast of cool air over a hot summer evening, comes Hysteria.

Hysteria takes place in 1880 England. Dr. Mortimer Granville, played by a charming Hugh Dancy, is an idealistic physician. He believes in modern science not the useless medical practices of the nineteenth century. His beliefs get him fired from a hospital and he finds work with an older physician, Dr. Robert Dalrymple. (Jonathan Pryce) Dalrymple's practice is to treat women with what is called hysteria. It's described as depression and muscle cramps. The treatment? Um, the doctor manipulates the woman's vagina. If done by a single woman, it's what we call masterbation.

Dalrymple is impressed with Mortimer. So much so that he wants him to marry his youngest daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones) and eventually take over his practice. Crashing into Mortimer' life is Dalrymple's older daughter, Charlotte portrayed by Maggie Gyllenhaal who again does a credible English accent. (See Nancy McPhee Returns) She's a feisty feminist who runs a settlement house. But it's Mortimer's success that leads to his revolutionary invention. You see, Mortimer has so many patients that his hand gets sore. Of course, if you looked like Hugh Dancy, you probably wouldn't have trouble with getting female patients. Anyway, one day while visiting his friend, Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe, played by a very funny Rupert Everett, Mortimer comes across an idea to use a vibrating contraption to stimulate a woman's vagina. Voila. It's the birth of the vibrator.

Jonah Lisa Dyer, Stephen Dyer and Howard Gensler have created a script loosely based on real events. As there was a Mortimer Granville who invented the vibrator. And the type of feminism that Charlotte displays did exist in the nineteenth century. See the Seneca Falls Convention. (1848) While there are broad moments of comedy, the writers keep the comedy grounded in the times. And the film has some serious fish to fry. Issues such as socialism and the inability of men to understand women are presented. Director Tanya Wexler does an excellent job of making every shot look like a million bucks. It's an England of stark contrast of poor versus rich. Yet, the country is beautiful to look at. She also expertly stages the comic set pieces.

Hysteria is a delightful romantic comedy. It's witty, warm and smart. The grade is A.

Jon Stewart interviews Maggie Gyllenhaal.

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