Wink, wink, nudge, nudge ...
Directed by Tanya Wexler
When one sits down to review a film about the invention of the vibrator, there's a choice to be made between the straightforward approach and cheeky titillation.
It's considerably harder when the makers of the flick seem to have been unable to decide that very issue for themselves.
Hysteria is set in Victorian England, at a time when doctors commonly diagnosed women's issues ranging from insomnia to depression as "hysteria", and believed the best treatment was massage to induce "paroxysmal convulsions".
The film draws on a climactic moment in British history, when technological and medical innovation was developing at a feverish pace, alongside a growing women's suffrage movement and the stirrings of sexual revolution that help drive the action.
Those are weighty issues, and Hysteria tries to address them, but often in a manner that feels ingenuously lighthearted and carefree.
Adding to that, there are quite a few instances - perhaps inevitably - when the film's humour suggests that director Tanya Wexler is herself giggling behind her hands about the subject matter.
In one such moment, amateur inventor Edmund St John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) tells women's physician Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) of the intriguing new device he's created.
"I told you I was working on something rather exciting," Everett quips. GET IT? Wink, nudge.
To be fair, the film is a quirky romantic comedy, and isn't necessarily striving to be anything more.
It's entertaining. The characters are shallow, but fun. Maggie Gyllenhaal (as female lead Charlotte Dalrymple) is charming and the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Dancy seems very natural.
Natural enough, fortunately, to overcome the awkwardness of a plotline about two people falling in love amidst so much . . . prescribed stimulation.
- © Fairfax NZ News