×

Hysteria

Tanya Wexler's "Hysteria" feels much like what would result if one took the conceptual gist of Sara Ruhl's sublimely witty play "In the Next Room."

With:
With: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, Gemma Jones, Anna Chancellor, Malcolm Rennie, Kim Criswell, Georgie Glen, Elisabet Johannesdottir.

Tanya Wexler’s “Hysteria” feels much like what would result if one took the conceptual gist of Sara Ruhl’s sublimely witty play “In the Next Room,” put it through committee-driven script development, and aimed for the kind of boisterous costume crowdpleaser that congratulates its audience for enjoying such refined entertainment even as it panders. This fictive comedy about the real-life use of vibrators to treat Victorian ladies’ “hysterical” disorders will attract enough positive notices from the usual suspects to support ads suggesting critical consensus. But the overcalculated pic could earn a quick ancillary exit just as easily as sleeper success.

The winking tone is set by the coy announcement “This story is based on true events. Really.” Fledging physician Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is introduced being fired from his latest 1880s London post for once again insisting on progressive medical ideas (like hospital hygiene) at time when leeches and bleeding are still accepted treatments.

Popular on Variety

Desperate for a job, he lands at the door of Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who is doing a booming business among genteel ladies afflicted with “hysteria” — a blanket term for practically any female complaint, especially psychological. Dalrymple’s method consists of having them lay down on a table, bare legs parted behind a discreet puppet-theater curtain, and manually massaging their privates to release “nervous tension.” It is stressed this procedure is strictly therapeutic, not sexual, but then these patients probably have no idea what an orgasm is. They just know they really, really like their treatment.

Mortimer proves a quick study (though he develops hand cramps from so much friggery), even being encouraged to woo his mentor’s favored daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones), who has a thornier sibling, suffragette Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who irks Papa no end by helping the lower classes at a charity settlement house. Ahead-of-her-time “feisty” with a vengeance, she’s like Mary Poppins juggling copies of “Das Kapital” and “The Female Eunuch.”

Naturally, idealistic but convention-bound Mortimer is going to realize he wants to be this spitfire’s domestic partner rather than Emily’s dully respectable husband. But not before a lot of predictable contrivances, including a trial scene that allows the two leads to speechify points the film has already made glaringly obvious.

Most of the comedy comes from Mortimer and wealthy layabout pal Edmund’s (Rupert Everett) semi-accidental invention of the vibrator — which saves Mortimer’s hand further stress and works hitherto undreamt wonders for Dalrymple’s clientele. In contrast with the subtle humor playwright Ruhl eked from erotic awakening under moralistically blindered circumstances, “Hysteria” offers broad laffs via stereotypes and slapstick.

Dancy manages a few sly moments, and Everett is as ever a scene-stealer, if barely recognizable under a beard and altered features, and with a raspy voice. But the estimable Pryce and Jones are wasted, along with many other fine thesps, while Gyllenhaal works too gratingly hard in an already strained role.

Shot in England and Luxembourg, pic is handsome enough on design levels, pro in tech departments. Orchestral score is galumphingly frolicksome in an elephant-in-toeshoes way.

Hysteria

U.S.-U.K.

Production: An Informant Media and Forthcoming Films production in association with Beachfront Films and Chimera Films. (International sales: Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Sarah Curtis, Judy Cairo, Tracey Becker. Executive producers, Michael A. Simpsons, Eric Brenner, Ken Atchity, Sandra Siegel, Leo Joseph, Nathalie Joseph, Mark Kress, Hakan Kousetta, Claudia Blumhuber, Florian Dargel, Peter Fudakowski, Stephen Dyer. Directed by Tanya Wexler. Screenplay, Stephen Dyer, Jonah Lisa Dyer.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Sean Bobbit; editor, Jon Gregory; music, Gast Waltzing; additional music, Christian Henson; production designer, Sophie Becher; supervising art director, Bill Crutcher; set decorator, Charlotte Watts; costume designer, Nic Ede; sound (Dolby Digital), Martin Trevis; assistant director, Laurence Rexter-Baker; casting, Gaby Kester. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 12, 2011. Running time: 99 MIN.

Cast: With: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, Gemma Jones, Anna Chancellor, Malcolm Rennie, Kim Criswell, Georgie Glen, Elisabet Johannesdottir.

More Scene

  • Logan Lerman Jordan Peele Al Pacino

    Al Pacino and Carol Kane Had a ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ Reunion on the ‘Hunters’ Set

    Nearly 45 years after Al Pacino and Carol Kane appeared in Sidney Lumet’s classic film “Dog Day Afternoon,” an Amazon Prime Video series about Nazi-hunters in 1977 New York City has brought them back together. Go figure. “I’m proud to be working with him again,” Kane told Variety at the “Hunters” premiere on Wednesday night [...]

  • Anya Taylor Joy Emma Premiere

    Anya Taylor-Joy on Playing Jane Austen's Clever, Callous Protagonist in 'Emma'

    It was an evening of elegance at the Los Angeles premiere of Focus Features’ “Emma” on Tuesday night. The red carpet was lined with pastel floral arrangements at the DGA Theater, priming visitors to be transported to the ornate pageantry of Georgian-era England, as depicted in this new adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic tale. Anya [...]

  • Tom Holland Chris Pratt Onward Premiere

    Tom Holland and Chris Pratt Show Off Real-Life Bond at Pixar's 'Onward' Premiere

    Pixar’s new movie “Onward” marks a reunion of sorts for Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. The two actors, who both have ties to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and most recently teamed in “Avengers: Endgame” as Spider-Man and Star-Lord, play brothers in the animated fantasy adventure. Their friendship has become a highlight of “Onward’s” promotional tour [...]

  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph

    Da’Vine Joy Randolph Praises Hulu's 'High Fidelity' for Telling a Realistic New York Story

    If HBO’s “Girls” characterized a certain type of young, disaffected millennial, fumbling cluelessly around a gentrifying Brooklyn, and if “Sex and the City” used Manhattan as a tantalizing playground for a class of well-connected, glamorous and decidedly 90s-bound women, both shows had one thing in common: they were painfully, inevitably white. “We’re gonna fix that!,” [...]

  • Harrison Ford Call of the Wild

    Why Harrison Ford Wanted to Play John Thornton in ‘The Call of the Wild’

    Joining legends like Charlton Heston and Clarke Gable, who have played the role of John Thornton in “The Call of the Wild,” Harrison Ford now stands next to a CGI-enhanced version of the dog named Buck in the latest adaptation of Jack London’s classic 1903 novel. “I thought the film has a lot to say [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content