Well, that sucked: “Hysteria” (2011)

5 October 2012

Once upon a time, I was pretty excited about seeing Tanya Wexler’s Hysteria, a film about the invention of the vibrator in the 1880s as a cure for hysteria in women. “I wanted to make a Merchant-Ivory movie with vibrators,” Wexler explained in an entertaining interview last spring. What, I asked, could go wrong?

Pretty much everything, as it turns out.

To be precise, what goes wrong is:

  1. Storyline that seeks neither historical accuracy nor three-dimensionality.
  2. Jaunty background music that signals in every scene that this is secretly a Disney film made in 1977.
  3. Dialogue that is so broad and unfunny that you sometimes expect the entire film to become a terrible musical, à la “Springtime for Hitler,” shouted from a stage by amateur actors.
  4. The entire narrative is foreshadowed in Scenes 1 and 2.
  5. Utterly improbable use of the law to speed along the narrative.
  6. Maggie Gyllenhaal appears so distracted by her own mastery of an Emma Thompson accent that she stumbles into every scene like the actorly equivalent of a bull. (See #3 above.)
  7. Token ginger-haired housemaid/reformed prostitute lives up to every stereotype. Not that she is out of place.
  8. And yes, the story takes the independent-minded reformer and feminist and … ultimately marries her off.

And then there are shots like this. [Didion shakes her head, slowly and mournfully.]

I can’t believe how much Hysteria represents a squandered opportunity. I mean, funding for movies made by women doesn’t grow on trees, people. More important: I got this film out of a RedBox machine last night because I needed light, comic fare for the end of a long day — and it proves merely to be grating. (I will admit that Rupert Everett had his moments, but I’m mad at him right now, thanks to our friend Michael.)

Want to know the difference between this and a Merchant-Ivory film? Let’s just say that the vibrators were the very least of it.

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9 Responses to “Well, that sucked: “Hysteria” (2011)”

  1. Dark Iris Says:

    NOOOOO! I was so excited about the film as well. Now I’m not even going to bother, especially since I’m pissed off at Maggie Gyllenhaal for Won’t Back Down or Fire All Teachers or Unions are Evil or whatever that stupid film is called….and now I’m justifiably mad at Rupert Everett too. As a side note, a student recommended SIDEWALLS to me, and I sent her straight to your blog! She’s a Film 101 student who has now fallen into my clutches, bwa, ha, ha, ha!

    • Didion Says:

      Ugh. Really, do. not. see. it. Especially you, Dark Iris, of the subtle analyses and righteous intellect.

      Many thanks, however, for the reference given to your student! Oh, for those rare moments when you discover a student who’s curious, opinionated, eager to talk, and eager to share unusual interests! I hope she joins in to talk about the film Sidewalls, which is still so little seen in the US.


  2. What’s with the distorted women’s history and perky music in these films. Watched “Iron Jawed Angels” recently and had to flee. The true bravery and determination of Alice Paul dramatized beyond recognition. And the ERA?

    Read that this is necessary approach how to appeal to young audiences. sigh.

    • Didion Says:

      Ahh! I still haven’t seen that one, and now I have no desire to. It would be one thing to use music in a smart and provocative way, like Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. But just a cheesy “don’t take this too seriously” kind of undertow? Puh-lease.


  3. I would love for you to make a movie in a very Merchant/Ivory esque about hysteria and vibrators!


  4. I watched yesterday. Well, attempted to watch. It was horrible. I found myself having the sudden urge to clean and do anything but watch it.

    • Didion Says:

      So glad to have the confirmation, Jessica — I can’t believe this gets roughly the same approval rating as Albert Nobbs, which wasn’t perfect but was infinitely better.

  5. Becky Says:

    Well, I am glad to hear Albert Nobbs is better. I watched Hysteria with my husband, and we both thought it sucked. I did chiuckle a couple of times, but it was BAD. I was so looking forward to it. Where are the intelligent comedies today? As to formulating an opinion of someone based solely on their work, it’s a trap that all of us fall into, but then we are often disappointed. Actors are not usually an extension of their work. We must remember they are “acting”.


  6. Of course, in my haste in commenting, I forgot to say a huge thank you in sparing my husband and me from renting Hysteria. We had put it on our queue and have now removed it.


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