Hysteria - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Hysteria Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ December 20, 2011
This delightful British comedy about the invention of the first vibrator in the medical treatment of female hysteria in the Victorian Era is a very funny film that benefits from an elegant dialogue, a sharp cast and a perfect chemistry between Dancy and Gyllenhaal.
Super Reviewer
½ December 9, 2012
An entertaining light comedy with tasteful handling of an otherwise "raunchy" subject. Hugh Dancy, and Rupert Everett are wonderfully charming, and add much needed quirkiness to an otherwise average film. I am NOT a Maggie Gyllenhaal fan, and I think that I would have preferred someone else in her role. I tried hard not to let that distract me from the movie...
Super Reviewer
December 12, 2012
He created an invention that turned on half the world.

Good movie! "Hysteria" is an exuberantly charming romantic comedy, yes, but it's also a surprisingly compelling depiction of a world in transition, when tradition was being challenged by progressive behaviors and technologies. Whether the story is really entirely true or not as it claims or is just a tale of manners, sex and modern sensibilities I don't know. But it is attractive, light and jolly good fun. Everything about Hysteria from casting to the acting, the costumes, the scenery... you name it, all was top notch.

In Victorian London, Dr. Mortimer Granville, a young doctor struggles to establish himself. He is hired by a doctor to investigate treatments for women diagnosed with female hysteria using 'pelvic massage'. The doctor's two daughters develop an interest in the young Dr. Granville, each tempting to woo him.
Super Reviewer
½ July 6, 2012
Funny and charming but tiresome. Hysteria has an interesting premise but very little hanging from it's coattails.

The film garnishes most of it's laughs by drawing contrast from the audience's 21st century sentimentality. Unfortunately, It's a one trick pony that soon loses it's punch about halfway through.

What we're then left with to enjoy is a most generic period-romance that's sooo formulaic and exhaustingly familiar you can't help but feel little to no effort was put into the movie at all.
Nate Z.
Super Reviewer
½ June 17, 2012
The birth of the vibrator doesn't seem like a tale that demands telling until you realize that the most prolific sex toy of all time started during one of the most sexually repressive cultures, Victorian England. In 1880, the plague of the era was a malady known as "hysteria." Half the women in London seemed to suffer from this condition where, as the doctors of the times believed, a woman's uterus had become unaligned and needed to be properly readjusted; the readjustment produced a "paroxysm" of relief. To treat hysteria, these trained professionals would oil their hands, insert them inside a woman's vaginal canal, and apply alternating pressure. They were getting these women off. Hysteria presents a charming document about the invention of the vibrator, a miracle of modern science. However, I wish the movie had taken a more mature approach to the material.

The alignment process was an arduous one, and Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) needs a new set of hands. Enter Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a crusading young doctor who butts heads with the medical establishment over things like washing hands and germs. Under Dr. Dalrymple's tutelage, the practice is never busier, relieving upper class women of hysteria. It's going so well that Dr. Dalrymple would like to eventually pass the practice on to his young protégé, as well as his proper young daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones). Then there's the doctor's other daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who clashes with authority, is outspoken about women's suffrage, is critical of the limited role women play in society, and devotes her time to a lower-class shelter to provide refuge and education to those in need. She represents a brand-new kind of woman in time, and Mortimer cannot get a handle on her. Mort is suffering some pretty serious hand cramps from his line of work when he gets a splendid idea from his childhood friend and amateur inventor, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett). It seems with a quick fix, the electric feather duster may have other more scandalous uses.

Hysteria is short of being hysterical but it's certainly charming and provides an interesting history lesson with a light touch. The very nature of women's hysteria is a fascinating moment in history where men were bending over backwards to find medical assessments for what is, in essence, horniness. The fact that these women's doctors were getting carpal tunnel from all the manually stimulation of their clients has got to be one of the strangest workplace hazards. In certain regards, the invention of the vibrator has saved lives, or at least the hands of medial practitioners. It's probably also made a whole lot of women a whole lot happier. Feminine sexuality was just an obtuse concept to the well-educated men in charge. One character says, with absolute certainty, that women cannot achieve sexual pleasure unless through insertion. As another fun historical note of male ignorance when it comes to female anatomy, when Deep Throat was being banned in the U.S., the federal judge who deemed it obscene cited, in his writing, that one of the many dangers of the provocative flesh film was that it mistakenly exposed women to the idea of an orgasm without insertion. This is almost 100 years later and yet men in high places of power are still carrying on complete ignorance of something they very literally know very little about. In that regard, Hysteria is jolly fun as we watch women get their jollies. There's always something fun about watching uptight characters cut loose, especially when they find pleasure that has been denied them.

Having a talented cast is also a benefit when you're working in comedy. Dancy (Adam) plays our straight man with fine properness. He has a few moments where he gets to delightfully squirm thanks to bold women and bold topics. He's got some solid chemistry with Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), who is the feisty spitfire we expect in this sort of movie. Gyllenhaal is charming without being obnoxious, and her English accent is impeccable. Pryce (G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra) and Jones (Like Crazy) are funny in their understated, stuffy British formal way, while Everett (Stardust) provides a great comedic jolt as the self-possessed, blithe technophile, ready at a moment's notice for a good wisecrack. Sheridan Smith (How to Stop Being a Loser) also deserves special mention as a maid who was formerly employed as a prostitute. Her randiness is a nice counterpoint to all that Victorian repression and she pushes the movie further into sex farce.

While amusing, I wish the filmmakers would have taken a, dare I say it, more mature approach to a very interesting subject of history. The structure and very aim of the movie is that of a typical romantic comedy, which is a shame given the atypical subject matter. It's pretty much a romantic comedy transplanted to merry old England. Much of the humor of the movie is divided into two camps: 1) watching the uptight Victorian era Brits cut loose with decorum, or, 2) self-aware humor about the ignorance of the age. The first is always fun since we're watching people sneak their true feelings through the wall of social repression. Wexler makes sue of a lot of sight gags and heartily enjoys cutaway reaction shots of ladies going orgasmic. It's enjoyable but the fact that Wexler has to keep going back to the reaction shots for jokes, it loses its effect. Then there's the self-aware humor built entirely upon dramatic irony, where the writers tweak the knowledge of a bygone era with all of our clever foresight: "Oh those stupid Victorians, not believing in things like germs and female orgasms." After a while, the self-aware humor becomes tiresome. We get it; these silly Brits did not understand female health and proceeded to rule in their ignorance. I wish the movie left behind the easy jokes for some stronger social commentary. To this very day, we have men legislating women's bodies and their reproductive rights (see: Oklahoma saying life begins weeks before conception, or Virginia demands medically-unnecessary vaginal probes for no other purpose than to shame women, and so so much more...). Ignorance knows no end, and one imagines the rom-com that makes fun of our current social mores and understanding.

It's during the last act where Hysteria really starts to come apart at the seams. Beforehand, it's been a fairly light comedy with some punctuations of commentary from Charlotte and her idealistic desire for equality. But then, and spoilers will follow, the movie suddenly transforms into a courtroom drama with Charlotte on trial. Her very mental health is on trial and if she's found to be a hopeless case of incurable hysteria, then she'll be shipped to a sanitarium and have her uterus forcibly removed. Wow. That is some heavy stuff for a movie that spent an hour making sex jokes. The courtroom setting leads to some pretty transparent speechifying; any subtlety goes out the window and we listen to messages about women's suffrage, equality, and empathy. This conclusion feels like it was ripped from another movie. It's tonally jarring. Then, after our lead takes his moral stand and confesses to his belief that there is no such thing as hysteria, that women are just stuck in sexually unfulfilling relationships in a sexually repressed age, everyone goes home to think about life. Then, thirty days later when Charlotte gets out of prison, she's met by Mortimer where he, I kid you not, proposes to her on the spot. For a movie about breaking misconceptions about women, tying things up with a marriage proposal seems almost hypocritical. It also marks a pretty big leap in the burgeoning romantic relationship between Charlotte and Mort. It seems rushed and a strange way to end a movie about female empowerment. The rom-com elements have won out over any higher messages.

Hysteria starts strong but goes limp. Hysteria runs out of juice. Hysteria is a pleasant experience but doesn't deliver a proper climax. Hysteria is not the feel-good movie of the year. The very nature of the movie lends itself to all sorts of innuenduous critical blurbs. It's a rom-com transplanted to Victorian England and I wish that it tried a little harder with the material rather than settling for easy jokes relying upon the ignorance of the age. The cast is superb and the movie is certainly fun, but it falls apart in the end when the messages overtake the narrative. So what is the best Hysteria blurb? I've had better.

Nate's Grade: B-
Super Reviewer
½ May 16, 2012
Hysteria is a bland, fitfully amusing take on Victorian era sexual repression,and sexism. Blessed with the assets of a stellar cast and occasionally effective comic situations, it's diverting in its early scenes, but is defeated in its later acts by a soporific brew of obviousness (especially in its 'paint by numbers' romance) and incessant preaching to the choir. Director (she has few credits) Tanya Wexler handles the comedy quite well, but finds no depth in the story or the characters, a fault that lies in the script.

It's the mostly historically accurate story of an middle aged doctor, in Victorian London, Dalrymple, (the always solid character actor Jonathan Pryce) who has a lucrative practice treating women for 'Hysteria' a catch-all phrase for women who need their neglected clitorises stimulated and go to the doctor for their weekly manual 'treatment'. He hires a young, incredibly bland, idealist Granville (the handsome and forgettable Hugh Dancy) to take over his practice and eventually marry his beautiful, conventional daughter (Felicity Jones). He has another estranged, saintlike, feminist daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is constantly borrowing money to take care of poor homeless people, prostitutes and any other downtrodden character she can get her mitts on.

When Granville gets hand cramps from his labors, he and his inventor friend Lord St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett, the only actor aside from Gyllenhaal who's memorable and a consistently welcome presence) invent the electric woman's vibrator. The royalties from this gadget give Granville enough money to rescue Maggie and fund her philanthropy, and of course, marry her as an anachronistic equal. The sister is left bereft, however there's a scene at the end where we see her begin her relationship with the 'gadget' so you know she'll be fine.

Maggie Gyllenhaal carries the movie, despite the fact that her ebullience is often shrilly over the top, especially compared to her bland fellow characters, she's full of life and masters her English accent very ably. Visually, London is depicted very blandly, even the working class, filthy streets. Rent Oliver! if want to see this milieu depicted properly.

Younger people may learn something from Hysteria about how repressed women were back in the day so for them it may be some kind of revelation, and serve some didactic purpose, but I doubt it. And boys may learn what they need to do to please a woman, (at least a more accurate view than the porn they watch) which I guess is good, though they'll need a supplemental map 'down there' which the film does not provide.

By the way, there's a play by the American playwright Sarah Rule, The Vibrator Play, that covers all the same territory (Hysteria clinic, check, naive doctor, check, repressed women, check) in the same time period, albeit in Boston, It's much more complex and interesting, if you can find it in book form to read or if it's being staged somewhere near you. That play has more parallels to our time and seems more relevant to the plight of today's women, who have not quite come far enough. This film feels like it's beating a dead horse and seems to be belaboring a cause that has long since been won.
Super Reviewer
September 26, 2011
I worked backstage on the stage play In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by Sarah Ruehl in Cleveland in the spring of 2012. I heard this movie (with the same general plot themes) was being released around the same time. The play is a few years old and evidently is not the source of the movie's script. Both are about the invention of the vibrator to treat hysteria in women in the Victorian Age. Both contain lots of laughs, mainly from the way this subject still makes society blush. In fact, it is only on the surface that these two stories are similar. The characters and actions that make up the movie are distinct in themselves. The costumes and set decorations are well done. The early electrical contraptions that Everett's character tinkers with really give us the feeling of traveling back in time. Gyllenhaal's Charlotte Dalrymple is a proto-feminist and social reforming school teacher. The way that she and Dancy's Granville end up romantically entangled is pretty standard. Both of their characters seem more like 21st Century creations thrust into this late-19th Century world. Even though the romance is nothing special, the comedy is worth your time. Sit back, loosen up, and feel the tension melt away.
Super Reviewer
½ June 3, 2012
in "Hysteria," Dr. Mortimer Granville(Hugh Dancy) is a good doctor preaching the gospel of hygiene in London. The bad news is this is 1880 when few are willing to listen. This also explains the many entries in his resume for this year alone. Not willing to accept the charity of his wealthy friend, Edmund St. John-Smythe(Rupert Everett), Mortimer decides to hire on with the first pill pusher that will have him which turns out to be Dr. Robert Dalrymple(Jonathan Pryce) who has developed a massage cure for women's hysteria. All goes well for Mortimer until he comes down with carpal tunnel syndrome. At least, Dalrymple has two grown daughters, Emily(Felicity Jones), amateur phrenologist, and Charlotte(Maggie Gyllenhaal), professional reformer.

"Hysteria" is proof that no movie can be all bad that contains a reasoned defense of socialism. In fact, the movie is an enjoyable and often amusing romantic comedy. The bad news is that Mortimer is something of a stock character with an obvious choice between profit and working for the charity of others.

The central difference between "Hysteria" and most other romantic comedies is its attention to historical detail, especially the invention of the vibrator which continues to give more people pleasure than even the chocolate chip cookie. This is a vast improvement over some of the now discarded relics and ideas of science that while we might laugh at them now, were taken very seriously at the time. One of the harsher sounding ones is alluded to while I should mention that this is still 50 years before the lobotomy was put into wide use. All of which is sadly still relevant with women's rights continually under threat.
Super Reviewer
½ May 6, 2013
An acceptable if not grand period piece about early studies of female stimulation and vibrators. Unfortunately the sensational nature of the piece takes up more attention than the writing.
Super Reviewer
March 10, 2013
A delightful film. Great dialog and performances. The film kind of reminded me of movies like Casanova, Kinsey, and An Ideal Husband. Hugh Dancy shines in the lead role. He has a great on screen chemistry with both Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rupert Everettt. Rupert Everett almost steals the films. I definitely recommend this film.
Super Reviewer
February 3, 2013
While I am not much for the subject matter. Hysteria is a gem of a little film. It is a small released film that should be enjoyed over and over.
Super Reviewer
½ April 19, 2012
"Hysteria" has several entertaining and humorous moments, as any period piece about the invention of the vibrator would surely have, but where the film fails in the constant overshadowing of the talented supporting cast, over the leading stars. Not to say Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal do not carry themselves respectably, but with Felicity Jones and Rupert Everett radiating the most humorous and thoughtful portions of the film, it is hard to justify the casting choices of the leads. The most memorable parts of the film involve Everett on his telephone. Instead of forcing the eventual couple of Dancy and Gyllenhaal, I much more leaned towards Everett and Gyllenhaal shacking up and Dancy ending up with Jones, but instead, we are force fed this strange coupling, where no one really wins. "Hysteria" marks one of the most sexual period pieces I have yet encountered (apart from the film "Garden Of Eden"), and ends up being quite enjoyable.
Super Reviewer
½ April 20, 2013
Very likeable film about women's liberty...and the invention of the vibrator.
July 31, 2013
I saw a trailer for this quite some time ago, wanted to see it at the time, and then completely forgot about it. I stumbled across an advertisement for it again recently, and I'm so glad I did. This is a witty, charming and incredibly funny film, albeit a little awkward. The last 20 minutes or so are a bit lackluster, but for the most part I had a great time watching this movie.
April 18, 2013
This is a funny British comedy about the invention of the first vibrator in the medical treatment of female hysteria in the Victorian Era. Elegant dialogue and a good cast. Surprisingly good.
½ March 26, 2013
Joseph Mortimer Granville patented the first electromechanical vibrator. His contribution to our society is immeasurable. This film is based on that contribution. Good or bad, this film's story would be worthy of being told as it is such an essential part of the history of the human race, but the script was decent, the performances were good and it was humorous, as it should have been when dealing with sexually conservative morons and idiotic prudes. God bless the vibrator, and long live hysterical paroxysm!
½ April 24, 2012
A period drama that covers the invention of the vibrator, this is a swift and funny film that is very entertaining. I LOVE the central romance--both Dancy's and Gyllenhaal's characters are people ahead of their time, in different ways. I think there can be too much of a broad touch with the comedy but this is still so much fun to watch. And a social consciousness is well expressed here too. The acting is also a highlight, from all involved.
January 19, 2013
This comedy/drama is far more entertaining than most true story period pieces - not because of the sensational story topic as much as because the characters were interesting and easy to get to like. Maggie Gyllenhaal's character is occasionally a little over-the-top, and the romance comes on much more quickly than makes a lot of sense, but overall it's a fun, interesting movie.
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