Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review of HYSTERIA (2012)

- Rated R for sexual content.
- Starring Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett
- Written by Stephen & Jonah Lisa Dyer (Based on an original story by Howard Gensler)
- Directed by Tanya Wexler
- Running time: 1hr 38min

I had no idea what this movie was about walking into this, so the story sort of surprised me.  If you want to walk in cold, don't read any further.  The plot is talked about in every other review and in the trailer, but I just didn't know about it, which was kind of cool.

The story takes place in Victorian London.  Dr. Granville (Dancy) is a poor physician with a big heart.  He gets a job assisting Dr. Dairymple (Pryce) treating women with "Hysteria".  Pretty much back in this time period, any woman who showed signs of what we now call anxiety or depression were diagnosed with Hysteria.  And to treat them, Dr. Dairymple services them.  By servicing them, I mean he has his patients lay down, spread their legs and massages their... um.... well, I'm just going to say it.  He fingers them!  I guess this was a common practice.  Dr. Granville is finally trained in on this and he's very successful.  But then he begins suffering from arthritis.  He can't perform to his boss' (and patients) standards no longer.  Then Granville's roommate Edmund (Everett) invents an electronic devise, a Dustbuster.  But Granville gets an idea from it.  What if he can use an electronic device to treat his patients.  Hence, the vibrator was born.

But this is all just a backdrop for the heart of the story, which turns out to be a traditional romantic comedy.  Dairymple has 2 daughters.  One is quiet and reserved, Emily (Felicity Jones) who Granville has affection for.  The other is Charlotte (Gyllenhaal) who is "a Chinese firecracker", as one character calls her.  She is a feminist and is against her father's practice.  She's also trying to raise money so a shelter for poor people won't shut down, which her father doesn't approve of.  But something funny happens.  Dr. Granville, once he gets to know Charlotte, starts to grow fond of her, but he's already engaged to Emily.

This could've easily been a one-joke movie, but the script is deeply layered with drama, screwball comedy, and fluffy romance.  A film with a potentially raunchy subject matter is handled with taste and elegance.  Even though it's about the invention of the vibrator and has absolutely riotous scenes of women orgasming, it was done in such a manner that I would feel comfortable taking my mom to this.

And those "pleasuring scenes".  The first one had me in stitches as a proper British lady (Georgie Glen) is yelling at Dr. Dairymple as she's orgasms.  And she does a great horse bit too.  Yes, there's plenty of sex jokes but it also has some well timed situational comedy.  It is all so well balanced, making this a very sturdy film.  There is also a social commentary about the rich and poor that was handled with kid gloves.  I'm glad it wasn't preachy.  The romance isn't overdone either.  It takes it's time and you actually see chemistry between Charlotte and the young doctor.  Every character in this, whether it's a lead actor or a a heavyset woman singing opera style as she's being pleasured, are fun and likable.

The acting is terrific all around.  Hugh Dancy has the perfect British everyman look, and is just wonderful in the lead.  Now, it's been no secret that I'm not a big Maggie Gyllenhaal fan, but that's just because I have a tough time looking at her.  She often gets cast as the young romantic lead, but I always felt like she looks at least 10 years older than her actual age.  But I've always thought she was a great actress, and she fits the character wonderfully here.  She should be doing nothing but period comedies and dramas, as she flawlessly does a convincing British accent.  Her performance is full of verve and confident energy, but she's also sweet.  Jonathan Pryce is good as always as the head doctor.  And man, is it nice to see Rupert Everett in a movie again.  He has some of the film's best lines as Dancy's roommate, delivering smart comments with a slight, tight smirk on his face.

The art direction is marvelously authentic, and the costumes spot on.  The whole movie just has a great tone to it.  Director Tanya Wexler has crafted a wonderful, edgy, but surprisingly commercial (and that's good) lighthearted comedy.  If I had one complaint, it would be that a certain development in the last act felt a tad rushed.  But the rest of the film is so enjoyable that it's a minor quibble.

I know some viewers tend to dread costume dramas or comedies, but this has a real nice swift pace.  It goes by real fast, and you'll be sad when it's over, cause it's just a joy.  I never thought I would say a movie about the vibrator would be delightful.  But it is!  HYSTERA is absolutely delightful!  If you loved movies like SENSE AND SENSIBILITY or EMMA, this is in the same league.  And even if you're not a fan of those, I have a feeling you'll still have a good time. 

***1/2 (out of ****)

Also, check out my interview with the film's director, Tanya Wexler. 

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