Set in Victorian England in 1880, Hysteria satirises the true story of how physician Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) accidentally invented the vibrator. Hysteria ridicules the disturbingly dated norms of 1880s English science and medicine that unfortunately acts as a potent reminder of the backward sexual and gender inequality that was prevalent at the time. This film really is for the ladies, and all members of the fairer sex will no doubt relish in the crude humour and innuendo.
Director Tanya Wexler mashes a fluffy, whimsical, sexual comedy and an authentic period romance set in high society that deflates all pretence. There's something funny about how the upper class women are portrayed trying to maintain composure laying on their backs with legs splayed by stirrups. Stephen and Jonah Dyer's script balances progressive sexual politics, a strong feminist message with a Judd Apatow-quota of female masturbation jokes. Sadly, the script is hindered by tiresome interludes that slavishly conform to the rom-com norms.
Dancy's Granville is a kind of Mr Darcy proxy. He's an idealistic, scholarly,"hypocratic oath spouting" progressive thinker that's ahead of his time; and he's pretty dreamy when he's diddling with lady parts to cure ailments. Especially in the moments that he's taking over from Jonathan Pryce's crusty Dr. Dalrymple - Dancy's nimble fingers become the in-demand cure all for a plethora upper class clams - so much so, that he discovers RSI too. He's best when he gets to show his good comic timing and I feel he was underutilised in the comedy department.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is an absolute delight as Charlotte Dalrymple. She doesn't shy away from delving into her character, a dirty and gritty proto-feminist. She's the realist, the modern feminine hero surrounded by the upper class populous being "massaged" into their demure state.
Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John Smythe will confound you though. He appears to have "Joan Rivers-ed" his face and the once facially expressive performer has now turned his face into something that looks like a Madame Tussauds figure left in the sun for too long.
Hysteria is a clever satire about the birth of the world's most popular sex toy, and despite some clunky rom-com plot devices it was refreshing to see a film subvert period film stuffiness with a barrage of vagina humour.
Directed by: Tanya Wexler
Written by: Stephen Dyer, Jonah Lisa Dyer and Howard Gensler (original story).
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett and Jonathan Pryce
Hysteria released in Australia on the 12th of July 2012, and was released in the U.S.A on the 18th of May 2012 and U.K on the 21st of September 2012.