Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hysteria (2012) - Movie Review

Who knew a movie about the invention of the vibrator would be so funny!

Hysteria is a movie set in the late 1800's.  The title does not refer to the Def Leppard song, but to the common medical diagnosis of female hysteria, which was sort of a 'catch-all' for just about any behavior or malady affecting women back then.  The common treatment for hysteria was a massage of a woman's lady-parts performed by the doctor.

Hugh Dancy stars as Mortimer Granville, a young doctor who's having difficulty finding work.  This is mainly due to his rejection of old medical practices, rather than the current modern science he believes in.  He's eventually able to get a job with Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who runs a very successful practice treating hysteria.  Dr. Dalrymple has two daughters, Emily (Felicity Jones), whom the doctor would like to see eventually marry Mortimer, and Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a tough activist that her father considers to be more of a troublemaker than anything.

Because the massages take a very long time, and they continue to get more patients, Mortimer eventually develops debilitating hand cramps that make it impossible for him to continue to do his job.  As it happens, his friend, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), a gadget collector, has an electronic feather duster that 'vibrates' and aids his hand cramps.  I'm sure you see where this is going.

The script by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa-Dyer is very funny but also manages to show a good amount or respect for the material.  The tone overall is very light, and a little sexy, but everyone plays it straight, so it never comes off as silly.  Director Tanya Wexler keeps the movie going at a very nice pace.  Although, there's a point in the third act where I thought the movie almost got away from itself, and it does kind of have a bit of a cliched ending, but you have a such a good time watching the film that you really don't mind.

I love period pieces, in general, and Hysteria did not disappoint on that front.  One of the stronger aspects of the film are the costumes and set design.  You see all the grime and dirt on people and the disparity in the living conditions between classes.  It felt very authentic and I enjoyed just looking at everything.

The best thing about the movie though is the cast, who from top to bottom are spot-on and extremely charming.  There honestly isn't a single weak player in the entire film.  Hugh Dancy does a good job as a young doctor that just wants to help people, but might be in over his head.  Felicity Jones gives a strong performance and I enjoyed her much more here than I did in Like Crazy.  While I thought their pairing up was too easy and convenient, I suppose that's how things were back then.

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives her strongest performance since Secretary.  She's so good and so looks the part that I had to remind myself that she's not English.  However, my favorite in the film is Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John-Smythe.  In a movie that's already funny, he delivers some of the best moments of the film and steals every scene he's in.  You almost wish he could have been in the movie more, but then it might have been a case of too much of a good thing.

I love when a movie you know almost nothing about surprises you and that's what I got with Hysteria.  It's not a perfect film, but enjoyed the hell out of it and it's one of my favorite gems so far this year.  It's charming, witty and even a little cheeky.  It's also a great date movie.  It's a small release, so most of you will have to wait for DVD, but if you have access to a local art house theater, like The Vine (, then I highly recommend checking it out.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

NOTE:  I originally gave this 3.5 stars, but after thinking about it for a day, I realized there was no reason for this to not be a 4 Death Star rating.

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