Women on the verge – Hysteria review

Hysteria – Starring Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Rupert Everett. Directed by Tanya Wexler. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

The invention of the vibrator ought to produce a cheeky and memorable film, yet Tanya Wexler’s direction of Hysteria – with an unexciting screenplay by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer – fails to hit the mark consistently. Set in Victorian London and following Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a doctor who can’t hold down a position because of his forward medical thinking, Hysteria doesn’t seem to know whether it’s a comedy or a drama, delivering limply on both fronts.

When Granville seeks employment at Dr. Robert Dalrymple’s (Jonathan Pryce) practice, he stumbles into an unusual treatment for female hysteria, which involves a pelvic massage to relieve the stress and symptoms. He also meets and attracts the attention of his new employer’s two daughters; the meek Emily (Felicity Jones) and the outspoken Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

While forming an attachment to Emily, Granville can’t help but be intrigued by Charlotte, who volunteers and runs a settlement house for the poor and needy. But it is when Granville loses his job – for failing to perform – that history is made. Enter his wealthy friend Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), who tinkers with inventions before Granville helps him turn an electric feather duster into what would come to be known as the vibrator.

The issue of women’s rights is loosely explored through Charlotte, who defies convention and puts her freedom on the line to get her message across. She is perhaps somewhat out of place in this story and the impact of her character’s battle should be greater in the film, yet is diluted by cheap laughs and underdeveloped relationships that seem to be forced for the sake of an interesting story. WhileHysteria could be viewed as a frothy and light-hearted comedy, the attention given to Charlotte’s storyline begs to differ.

The performances are all commendable; Dancy and Gyllenhaal both deliver, while Pryce and Jones are equally as delightful. The one exception to this is Everett, who calls his performance in and mumbles through his limited dialogue. He is naturally outlandish and yet his character feels completely flat and under-delivered.

While shedding light on an underexplored historical event, the movie takes liberties in the name of entertainment and promotes romance ahead of a solid story. Ultimately, flaccid direction and uneven pacing and tone sees the feature fail to reach the levels of excitement experienced by the hysteria patients being treated on screen.

3/5

Hysteria arrives in Australian cinemas July 12, 2012.

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