Tanya Wexler's third feature is a comedy of manners, love story and a pinch of historical drama nicely packaged into one. While it sets itself up to be a movie about the invention of the world's first vibrator, the end result gives us so much more.
Set in the Victorian era at the close of the 19th century, the film shows us the treatment of 'hysteria' - a widely misunderstood diagnosis of women displaying broad, vague signs of depression, unhappiness, anxiety and more - when most of them are really just sexually frustrated.
The movie works because it takes the focus off medical jargons and turns its attention to the romantic development of Dr Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) and Charlotte Dalrymple (Maggie Gyllenhaal). We go through a journey with the idealistic doctor as he battles outdated medical science and struggles to find his place in the upper echelons of society - only to find that it is not where he wants to be.
Tanya's tongue in cheek direction is admirable, as she wades a fine line between a light hearted comedy and satirical observational humour. The film comes off as a strong inspiration from Oscar Wilde's well known play, 'The Importance of Being Earnest', but it never fails to be a pale imitation of it.
What Tanya does most successfully is exploring feminist issues through Charlotte's character. The strong headed and articulate character is well written, but the movie could be a lot more satisfying if more screen time could be attributed to the Charlotte's role that was superbly played.
If you're in for an evening treat that puts across some of our funniest sexual jokes in a light hearted, Victorian banter, 'Hysteria' might just be the film for you.