Remarkably insipid Hysteria recounts the invention of the vibrator | Film Review | Indy Week
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Remarkably insipid Hysteria recounts the invention of the vibrator 

Sheridan Smith as Molly the Lolly in "Hysteria"

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Sheridan Smith as Molly the Lolly in "Hysteria"

Midway through Hysteria, a comedy set among the highly fictionalized people of Victorian London who were involved with the invention of the female vibrator, my viewing companion turned and said: "You know what's wrong with this movie? It assumes everyone back then was stupid."

Indeed, and I went one further and suggested that the filmmakers also think everyone in the audience is stupid. There's little other explanation for the remarkable insipidness of nearly every aspect of this production. Clearly, the script started from a well-intended impulse to tell the story of the vibrator. But instead of making what could be a very entertaining documentary, Identikit characters were cooked up, grabbed from the closest stereotypes at hand: 1) An idealistic but penniless doctor meets an idealistic but rich social reformer in the film's first 10 minutes; 2) They're perfect for each other, as any idiot can see; 3) But we have to endure 90 minutes of predictable complications; historical anachronisms; on-the-nose soapboxing; shameless mugging; physical comedy about female orgasms; grating musical wallpaper; a comic red-haired Irish tart named Molly; and ham-fisted editing of a kind that went out of fashion a generation ago, in order to get to the kiss and clinch at the end.

I found myself wondering if the script had been written by a third grader who'd watched a few 1950s Hollywood movies set in London, along with any movie that ends in a courtroom scene with the life of the hero or heroine at stake. However, this film was conceived by adults: The director and producers are women, two of the three credited writers are men. Unsurprisingly, all seem to be American.

Despite the subject matter, there's not much to recommend this picture, except perhaps to witness the formidable talents of Maggie Gyllenhaal going to waste. As the daughter of a doctor grown rich from treating sexually frustrated women by inducing them to orgasm, Gyllenhaal flounces, flirts, preaches and punches, doing her best to make this film worth a damn. She's an interesting, intelligent actor, and I look forward to her someday having an opportunity to revisit this period of history by playing someone like Emma Goldman or Margaret Sanger in a better film.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Pour some sugar on me."

Film Details

Hysteria
Rated R · 95 min. · 2012
Official Site: www.facebook.com/Hysteriamovie
Director: Tanya Wexler
Writer: Stephen Dyer, Jonah Lisa Dyer and Howard Gensler
Producer: Sarah Curtis, Judy Cairo and Tracey Becker
Cast: Rupert Everett, Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Felicity Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Anna Chancellor, Gemma Jones and Tobias Menzies

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