|Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett, and Hugh Dancy prepare to pleasure a woman in the name of science.|
**1/2 out of ****
Hysteria is a romantic-comedy-period-costume-drama about an unusual subject: The invention of the vibrator. I never saw The Road to Welleville, but it was the only movie that came to mind before seeing this one. It's generally an enjoyable movie but a bit uneven.
The movie begins as a whimsical comedy that gave me the desire to see the characters break into song. Well... one eventually does but that doesn't make this a musical, which it could have easily been. The film never feels one-hundred-percent sincere which allows the absurd standards of Victorian-era medicine and the condition known as Female Hysteria to work in the service of the film's comedy. Hugh Dancy is in the lead as Dr. Mortimer Granville, a progressive doctor struggling with superiors who won't believe in germs. Rupert Everett plays Lord Edmund St. John Smythe, his roomate, who was developing the first electrical fan with an unexpected destiny. Jonathan Pryce is a successful doctor who hires Granville into his practice and the lovely Felicity Jones is his self-repressed daughter who he hopes Granville will marry. Then his other rebelious daughter played by Maggie Gyllenhaal walks in the room as the protagonist's second love interest and the film feels different.
I love Maggie Gyllenhaal but her style of acting collides with the tone of this film. Her character is so forward-thinking, she might as well be a time traveler. Her acting is also very naturalistic and lacks the theatricality of the rest of the cast. Maybe this was deliberate on the part of director Tanya Wexler, but it didn't work for me.
Still the film has lots of laughs through it's unusual history lesson involving doctors who treated 'hysterical' women oblivious to the fact that their treatment was only popular because it was bringing women to orgasm. This film doesn't take a very complex look at this bit of history. Why should it? This is such a hilarious historical fact, it is right for it to be turned into a comedy as accessible as this one.
Check out The AV Club's slightly less-positive review.