Hysteria | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


A period rom-com about the English doctor who invents the vibrator


Because we live in 2012, I can tell you quite directly that Tanya Wexler's Victorian-era drawing-room comedy centers on the invention of the vibrator by Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), and its immediate success with the ladies. (This is a true history, though it's likely artistic license has been applied.) Granville, a young man with modern medical ideas, gets a job assisting Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who has a lucrative practice treating unhappy (a.k.a. hysterical) women with a treatment of ... ahem ... pelvic massage. But as Britain is also crackling with New Technology (electricity, telephones!), Granville discovers that a mechanical massager could greatly speed up productivity, "curing" women faster and generating more profits.

All of this is a bit of frothy fun, in which we smirk at the misinformed and oblique nature of 19th-century sexuality. (The "ill" ladies queue up for the therapeutic "paroxysms.") But not content to let us have this bit of naughty smugness, Wexler subjects poor Dr. Granville to not one, but two hackneyed rom-com subplots, both involving the boss' daughters. His foil is Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a radical progressive/suffragette/proto-feminist who rides a bicycle, works with the poor and seems very self-actualized. 

But for the light touch Wexler exhibits with the vibrator plot, she doubles down heavily on the romance (which is less a love story than a Study of a Modern Woman Who Speaks Her Mind). That renders it anachronistic, clunky and weirdly out-of-sync with the story's other half. A steady focus, in both matters medical and narrative, is recommended. Starts Fri., June 15.

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