PLOT: The apparently true story of how, in 1902 London, a young physician named Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) invented the vibrator- which he intended to use in the treatment of “hysteria”- or rather, horniness in English women.
REVIEW: It’s amazing to think that in an unenlightened time, a woman’s sex drive- should it happen to be active, could see her labeled as hysterical, and in some cases result in her being confined to an asylum, or butchered by an unnecessary hysterectomy. But sure enough, that was the case- although considering, as HYSTERIA notes, that the same medical establishment scoffed at the notion of germs, and thought a good bleeding was the best cure-all to any malady, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
So this is the premise of Tanya Wexler’s HYSTERIA, but don’t worry, it’s far from a history lesson. Rather, it’s yet another in a long line of British rom-coms that prove, once again, that they seem to be the absolute masters of this genre (although Wexler’s American- so I guess this is a hybrid). Sure enough, the invention of the vibrator proves to be the ideal MacGuffin for this rom-com, centering mostly on the attraction between a stuffy young English doctor (Dancy- very reminiscent of a young Hugh Grant, complete with much stammering), and the liberated, free-thinking daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal- sporting a convincing English accent) of his employer (Jonathan Pryce).
Sure enough, HYSTERIA’s the type of film that you’ll have figured out right from the start, as there’s never any doubt that Granville will opt for Gyllenhaal’s fierce Charlotte over Pryce’s other, more comely daughter (played by the ever-appealing Felicity Jones). But, in a twist, that turns out not to be the main conflict of the film, as Charlotte’s independence- which includes running a free clinic for the poor, results in her arrest and trial- with not only her freedom, but seemingly her uterus at stake!
Of course, HYSTERIA will never be mistaken for a tragedy, so you can reasonably assume you’ll walk out of the film with a smile on your face. The film works beautifully, thanks to the “just crazy enough to be true” premise, and the spot-on chemistry between Dancy, and Gyllenhaal- who’s terrific in a nice change of pace. Rupert Everett lends a few extra laughs to the film as Dancy’s randy, aristocratic benefactor- with a love of electrical gadgets- and turns out to be EXACTLY the kind of guy you want to be friends with if you’re looking to invent a vibrator (mental note).
More than anything, HYSTERIA will make a great date-film for those who are too cool for WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING- and, it’s one that’s bound to entertain both halves of any couple. It doesn’t reinvent the rom-com, but it’s a very well made, rather intelligent one- and a lot of fun.