Monday, July 9, 2012

review: "hysteria"

A week and a half ago the Steel City Steam Society once again flash mobbed a theater in neo-Victorian/steampunk garb to see a film. The selection was Hysteria, a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator.

The story is of one Mortimer Granville, M.D., an enthusiastic young doctor who just wants to help people in need of the medical arts, finds himself working for one Dr. Robert Dalrymple, a specialist treating the disease of hysteria. Hilarity ensues in the following forms:

  • Dr. Dalrymple's maid, a prostitute-turned-domestic named Molly. 
  • Edmund St. John-Smythe (played by Rupert Everett), Granville's friend and an electrical technological geek with wonderful one-liners ranging from technology to sex to fistfights at parties. 
  • Men who think that hysteria is a real disease, with symptoms in everything from toothaches to depression. 
  • The medical "quackery" advertised on the streets. 
  • Speaking of "quacks," the ducks in the park. 
  • The Dalrymple sisters- polar opposites and representative of the "angel/devil in the house" gender theories of the Victorian times. 
  • The clients that Granville treats, both before the vibrator is invented and after. 
The great points about the movie were the research done about hysteria, medical practices and theories of the Victorian era, social conventions, and some of the awkwardness created by being "correct" in one's social behavior. And, despite the subject matter around which the movie revolved, it was mostly tastefully done.

Another favorite point is the fact that the audience can clearly see the outline of Charlotte's corset underneath her practical blouses- much as bra lines can be seen with some clothes today, even if they're meant to be conservative clothing.  I've worn corsets beneath blouses and Victorian dresses before, wondering how women concealed the lines that sometimes show through.  It was just nice to see an on-screen character with the same problem.  

image source: Windy City Times
The weaknesses were, in my opinion, the entire Dalrymple family. It was hard to take anyone seriously. Emily was way too good and Charlotte was an out-of-control freak. I just had a really hard time, as I do quite often in any role that Maggie Gyllenhaal ever plays, believing that her generally over-the-top characters are real people. I really did think Charlotte, as played by Gyllenhaal, deserved the title of a hysteric- perhaps a clever thing to do on the actress's part considering the topics discussed throughout the movie, including the existence of the disease of hysteria. I guess the movie was trying to say that all women are sometimes as crazy as Charlotte and it's okay and makes men love us? Dr. Dalrymple was worse- he started out being an ignorant simpleton regarding women and sex and ended up being some sort of evil and controlling monster who would pay thugs to beat up women at Charlotte's charity to rein in his wild child.

There was also a more "serious" subplot thrown into the mix- that of Charlotte's charity work in the slums of London- that was rather sloppily done, almost taken directly from the the TV series "Bramwell," which is about another headstrong Victorian female, a doctor who runs a charity hospital in the East End in 1890s London.  It also gave me painful memories of my last full-time job's inability to pay bills.

If you like romantic comedies... this may not quite be the movie for you. I think it fit on the comedy scale, but it seemed to lack in romance. I am not sure where the basis for a romantic could have blossomed, but as I don't like romance movies to begin with that was probably better for me that there was no general blossoming.

But negatives aside, it was an educational movie regarding medical discoveries and social ideals, radical ideas, and the worries regarding the changing role of women in 1880s England. So if you are a Victorian history buff interested in those topics I strongly recommend giving this movie a try, if only to laugh at our modern take of the prudish Victorians and their repressed sexuality unleashed.

1 comment:

  1. Oooh, thanks for posting this! The website says it is playing in Dallas, but there are not any showtimes listed for the theatre. I must have missed it, drat it all!