Monday, July 2, 2012

Hysteria: A Dark Hoot

     Victorian women enjoying ‘paroxysms’ to relieve the patriarchy of their ‘hysteria’ has become popular lately with Sarah Ruhl’s play In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) and the recent movie Hysteria, which is finishing up its run at The Esquire.  The humor derives from middle-class and upper class characters unable to speak openly about female sexual
needs (or female needs at all) and, instead, having to substitute various ‘scientific’ to address the problems.  The medical consultation scenes, while considered completely respectable, resemble what would be labeled as ‘adult services’ nowadays with a happy ending.

Hugh Dancy as the Vibrator Doctor
     The plot revolves around Hugh Dancy as Dr. Mortimer Granville, who actually patented the first vibrator, and his experiences as a doctor specializing in relief of hysteria.  His best friend, played by Rupert Everett, is a bored, wealthy aristocrat (and literal/figurative fairy godfather), who invents the first vibrator.  Granville is matched to marry Felicity Jones as the daughter of his senior partner, but he is profoundly taken with her older sister Charlotte, played with zest by Maggie Gyllenhaal.  She pretty much stops the movie cold whenever she appears because her character cuts through the patronizing comedy of hypocrisy to reveal the darker realities of gender and social class inequality that were the somber shadows behind the glorious sun that would never set on the British Empire.  Obviously, it’s still true for our current American Empire, which is the reason that the subject is relevant.

Maggie Gyllenhall Showing Off Her Upper Crust Roots
     Maggie Gyllenhaal possesses the verve and excitement of the young Katharine Hepburn.  One major difference is that she’s physically and emotionally tough as she demonstrated in Sherrybaby and Secretary and able to play characters from very different cultural and social backgrounds.  She worked with a dialect coach on this movie and smartly concentrated on pulling off a perfect middle-class London accent, rather than the ruling class accent of the characters playing her family.  It makes sense that her character would speak in an accent more empathetic to the settlement house clients for whom she works.  

Rupert Everett as the Inventor
     Rupert Everett is aging strangely.  He’s grown a beard that makes him look vulpine and his eyes seem to have lost their gleam.  He’s charming as he has been in a number of movies, most notably My Best Friend’s Wedding and An Ideal Husband.  What’s ironic is that he has complained that coming out pretty much froze his career.  He did so in the late ‘90s, whereas doing so a decade later might not have had such a negative bearing (at least according to Entertainment Weekly’s cover story last week).  However, I wonder if he has pushed himself as a performer or if the audience even wants him to do so.  He’s elegant and droll with a sharp sense of wit as a performer that cuts through second-rate writing (in this movie, it’s where he’s late to a party given by his parents and there’s no reason for it or what his role is supposed to be there, though his silent reaction to a punch gets a laugh).

My Marilyn Monroe Impersonation

Explain to me…what's a vibrator?

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