Hysteria Review By Adam
A romcom set around the invention of the vibrator? Yep, Hysteria is such a film. Despite its potentially salacious material, Hysteria is a broad, likeable, crowdpleaser that (I’m guessing) will be a word-of-mouth hit (especially with the oldies). Bizarrely, this film is as about as inoffensive as it gets, despite the fact it contains uncountable scenes of Hugh Dancy wanking off bored housewives (put that quote on the poster, I dare you).
Hysteria follows idealistic medical practitioner Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) as he bucks against the late-19th century’s archaic medical establishment. After being fired for the umpteenth time, Granville finds himself employed at the practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), a stressed man who cannot keep up with the demand of his services: namely, bringing women to climax via manual stimulation. Dr Dalrymple does not operate a ‘rub-and-tug’ operation though; he is a serious man of medicine and offers his services to treat the all-encompassing condition of ‘Female Hysteria’. The ‘Hysteria’ in question is loosely defined as undesirable female impulses, often brought on by sexual dissatisfaction. As Granville gets caught up in Dr Dalrymple’s practice he also gets involved with his daughters: the dutiful Emily (Felicity Jones) and the feisty Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall). Will Granville find vocational satisfaction? And will he find love along the way?
Hysteria is an undeniably broad film. Tonally, the film is full of whimsy and repressed (for comedic effect) exchanges. While this film dips its toes into some dramaticly-rich material — gender equality, science versus tradition and the hypocrisy of classism — it never gets beyond speechifying (sometimes, literally). A lot of the characters in Hysteria are just arguments personified; Maggie Gyllenhall’s character Charlotte speaks exclusively in feminist tropes and her father constantly sprouts lines about duty and tradition. These are not deal breakers though, as the cast are all in tune with this style of film and play their characters large.
Hugh Dancy is quite good as the neurotic, blundering Dr Granville. Dancy has impeccable timing and his put-upon demeanour generates the majority of the film’s laughs. He is adept at demonstrating Granville’s exquisite brain while simultaneously showing his social inadequacies. Maggie Gyllenhaal is force of nature in this film. She plays Charlotte so completely over-the-top (British accent and all) that I had to recalibrate with the film after she entered it. Some may be put off by her preachy histrionics, but she can’t be accused of being dull. Jonathan Pryce is reliably solid as the vexed Dr Dalrymple. He always brings class to proceedings and Hysteria is no different. Felicity Jones is being touted as a new acting ‘it girl’, but she fails to register in this film. I wouldn’t blame her though as her character is seriously underwritten. A special mention must be made of Rupert Everett, with his bushy stubble, reptilian glances and over-sexed delivery he is a hoot as Dr Granvilles’s playboy housemate, Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe.
Hysteria lovingly recreates its turn of the century setting. The production design and costumes are spot on and coupled with an upbeat score (by Gast Watlzing and Christian Henson) Hysteria creates an affable atmosphere. Director Tanya Wexler has shot this film in a smooth, classical way that is free from modern trickery and it never feels false or calculated. When a director employs these techniques there is a danger of a film becoming staid and Hysteria sometimes gets half-way there, but its bawdy material (women kicking their legs in ecstasy) acts as a cinematic defibrulator and keeps the film alive.
Hysteria encounters a few problems in its scripting. Without spoiling the film, some of the characters’ motivations are quite inexplicable or (in the case of Felicity Jones’s character) never explained at all. I realise that most romantic comedies require a suspension of disbelief, but I was left scratching my head when this film had played its romantic hand. When this film focuses on the medical tomfoolery, it is far more satisfying than when it recycles romantic clichés. These added subplots occasionally bog down Hysteria and make it feel longer than its 97 minute running time.
Overall, Hysteria is a fun, likeable film that is the definition of a ‘mum movie’. If you do decide to take your mum (and you should, when did you last call her?) just pray that you don’t have to talk about her ‘toys’ afterwards.