In high school, I was incredibly involved in the close analysis of theatre. In college, I’ve switched over almost exclusively to film. But since I write a blog reviewing movies, I think you probably know which medium I favor.
So you may be surprised to hear me recommend that you read a play rather than watch a movie, but the invention of the vibrator has been done better by a playwright. While “Hysteria” is fine and dandy – OK, that was being way too nice, it was actually vapid and unremarkable in every way – the topic has been handled with far more thought by Sarah Ruhl in “In The Next Room (The Vibrator Play).” Ruhl’s play was nominated for a Tony Award; I think Tanya Wexler’s film will be lucky to compete for a spot in my year-end most forgettable list.
Ruhl understood that there’s a very strong parallel between what happened in the Victorian era with women’s health and sexuality and what is happening now. When such a relevance is inherent in the material, you can’t ignore that! But Wexler does, and her film suffers from being cursory and surface-level to the point of fault.
If you’ve read “In the Next Room” and then watch “Hysteria” (which admittedly few probably have), you will undoubtedly be disappointed in Wexler’s blunder. But even if you haven’t read the Ruhl play, I still think you’ll be disappointed … just in a different way.
You’ll find the film has no urgency. You’ll find the romance between Hugh Dancy’s Dr. Granville and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s loony Charlotte Dalrymple is unconvinced and undeveloped. You’ll find that, whether you watch from intellect or for humor, there are better ways to be stimulated. Pun fully intended. C /