Film Review by Cecilia Cygnar
In my never ending search to write about movies I enjoyed, I find myself going back to last year's DVD release of Hysteria, a funny (very funny), charming, historical, based-in-reality film about...wait for it...the invention of the vibrator. Yes, you read that correctly. The invention of the vibrator. Yes, THAT vibrator.
Part comedy, part drama, all heart...Hysteria, as I said, is based on actual events. Now, with most Hollywood films that are based on actual happenings, liberties are taken. But, with this film, I would say probably even more liberties are taken than usual. Did the vibrator really get invented by Dr. Granville, who Hugh Dancy plays in the film? Yes, that we know for sure. But, the path to Granville's famous invention, I'm assuming, was not as humorous, sweet or endearing. Also, Granville's feisty love interest, played with perfect pluck by Maggie Gyllenhaal, most likely is a character that is purely a Hollywood invention. Dancy's Granville starts off the film by joining the medical practice of Dr. Dalrymple, whose practice specializes in female hysteria.
An outdated diagnosis, hysteria was used to describe women who were unsatisfied in their lives in some way...or nervous...or anxious. Whereas now there is therapy or anxiety medications, women of the late 1800s did not have any outlets for their nervy behavior. Well, Dr. Dalrymple's solution/cure for female hysteria was....attending to his patients with a certain kind of, ahem, attention. Granville, being a young, idealistic new doctor, did not see any future in this very limited methodology, so he took it upon himself, along with an inventor-friend of his, to come up with a solution...a device to do the work for him.
Now, I do not mean to make fun of this very important invention (sarcasm here). But, the movie itself makes light of it. Not of the invention necessarily, but with the overall humorous tone the film takes. Hugh Dancy does justice to Dr. Granville, but also takes the film's sexual material and balances the line between over-the-top racy humor and light-hearted, innocent comedy. The relationship between Granville and Maggie Gyllenhaal's character, who also happens to be Dr. Dalrymple's daughter, is a little predictable, but the funny, endearing story makes up for any flaws.
Hysteria: 2011, rated R, 100 minutes, directed by Tanya Wexler, starring Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rupert Everett and Jonathan Pryce. The Niles Library owns this title on DVD.
About this column: Cecilia Cygnar, the Niles Library's film specialist, reviews films in the library's collection.