The costumes for Hysteria were something out of A Christmas Carol (coats and hats and warm sort of nonsense) and the plot resembled a sex-comedy of Hollywood’s golden age but despite all its charming drapery – and you will observe some flamboyant drapery! – this is a film about the implementation of the vibrator by a doctor who developed carpal tunnel from manually relieving several women daily.
It’s a tricky idea to take on because all humour on the subject of masturbation has been exhausted, and the comedy relies heavily on odious puns, which were evolved and retired with the rise of Judd Apatow films and are only now viewable on d-grade releases like Date Movie, Meet The Spartans and the latest Twilight parody, Breaking Wind: Part 1.
The only actor at home on set is Rupert Everett, whose character is instrumental but appears only to be along for the ride. Gyllenhaal and Dancy are repellent. Maggie’s talent was completely dried out in her exceptional performance in Happy Endings and has been absent from all subsequent work.
The film is exceedingly silly, and any audience risks being too mature for its unsophisticated jokes, and at the same time, too conservative for some of its content. In any context outside of comic ridicule, the “treatment” performed on most of the women in the film, is voyeurism, but these women are made ridiculous – they are all old and/or frumpy – and then pacified with a new kind of shock therapy. These particular scenes in Dr. Dalrymple’s (Jonathan Price) practice are out of place. It is really two films: a morality tale, about a physician evaluating his sense of duty and the invention of the vibrator and how it was used in experiments on women suffering diagnoses of hysteria. I do imagine it looked much better on paper, as its framework does so strongly echo the great cinema of the forties.
This demonstration of hysteria, vastly different from Cronenberg’s more accurate telling through Keira Knightley’s contorted vessel, seems to be boiled down to mere sexual frustration. Women can’t relate to this anymore, well not the type of women who will ever respond to it. All this film will accomplish is vibrator sales to old ladies. You’re advised to stay at home. Please yourself.
* a version of this post originally appeared at filmblerg.com