Hysteria Movie Review
There's probably a fascinating, complex story behind the invention of the vibrator in 19th century London, but this silly farce isn't it. Instead, this is a comical romp that just happens to be set against the birth of the most popular sex toy in history. It's nicely assembled, with a strong cast, but the tone is so goofy that it never breaks the surface.
It's the late 1880s when young doctor Mortimer (Dancy) takes a job in London with Dalrymple (Pryce), who specialises in treating hysteria, considered a serious medical condition at the time, even though it seems to only afflict women whose husbands are neglecting them socially and sexually. As Mortimer courts Dalrymple's placid younger daughter (Jones), lining himself to take over the practice one day, it's the feisty older daughter (Gyllenhaal) who continually challenges his worldview. And as he treats his patients, Mortimer works with his friend Edmund (Everett) to create a mechanical vibrating device that has an immediate effect on his patients.
Everything in this story is played broadly, as if it's frightfully hilarious to talk about sex in such a straightforward way. But this prudish approach only trivialises everything about the story, from the premise to the characters themselves. And it doesn't help that the script never gives any of these people more than one or two key personality traits. The actors do what they can with them, adding moments of effective drama and comedy while hinting at the serious themes underneath the story. But it's so silly that we never really care about anything that happens.
That said, the bright, cheeky tone does keep us relatively entertained, especially as the film touches on series issues such as women's rights, social bigotry and attitudes toward poverty. On the other hand, the rom-com plotline is predictable and corny - there's never a question who will end up together at the end. And as a whole the filmmakers miss the chance to create something genuinely funny and telling out of the material. Not to mention making a comment on repression in our own day.