Monday, July 2, 2012

Hysteria (2011)

Director: Tanya Wexler

Cast: Hugh Dancy (1), Maggie Gyllenhaal (2), Felicity Jones (3), Rupert Everett (4)

My favourite quote - 
"I know by the time I'm gone, women will have the vote, they'll have equal education, and rights over their own bodies. And I'd like to play some small part in making that happen." 

Hysteria first caught my attention when I found out that one of my favourite actors, Hugh Dancy, was one of the cast members. Then when I found out Maggie Gyllenhaal and Felicity Jones were in it too, I decided that I just had to watch the film. Now this film is still not shown in theaters in Singapore, but it was shown at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Anyhow, I only discovered what the film was about when I started watching it. And I was surprised, and wasn't quite sure if it were fact or fiction. 

Hysteria is a film about how the vibrator was first invented. But don't be fooled by its flashy topic. This film is also about women's place in society during the Victorian era. The inventor of the vibrator is indeed Mortimer Granville, but the facts I believe have been sensationalized or modified to make the film interesting. 

I love watching the Miss Universe pageants. And I remember Australia's Jennifer Hawkins being asked this question: "If you could choose what time period and what sex to be, what would you choose and why?". Her answer was: "I'd have to say this time period because we have as much freedom as we want. And I choose the sex of female, because females have a lot to say in today's society. So I'd say this century, today." And when I ask myself this same question that was posed to her, my answer too is today. I think women today are very lucky. We don't HAVE to stay at home and cook and clean. We are permitted to have a good education and carve a successful career of our own. We are not subjected to as much discrimination as women in the past suffered. Compared to the women in the Victorian era, we are much luckier. 

"You must admit, you men really did get the better side of the bargain. For us, its mindless housework and doting on some halfwit. Its simply not enough for me, or for most women." - Charlotte Dalrymple 

Consider all the period films like Pride and Prejudice, Becoming Jane, Beatrix Potter just to name a few, all the women during those times were subjected to so many restrictions and were thought so little of. I'm grateful to all the women in the past who stood up for women's rights and equality. It is because of their bravery and courage that women today have a say about how to live their lives, who to marry, and what kind of work they do. 

"Its very easy isn't it? To make fun of women's lives. I would like to see you walk for one mile in our shoes. I imagine that your mirth would turn first to sympathy and then to despair."  - Charlotte Dalrymple 

Men vs Women is also a theme much covered in Hysteria. Doing housework and taking care of the family is something women still do today. But the difference is that isn't the only thing they are allowed to do these days. There has been many debates over this topic since a long time ago. And today, women are still expected to be able to take care of the family, as well as to cook and clean. Having a successful career is only if you can manage to juggle everything at home first. Well, that isn't the case for every single woman, and some women have very wonderful supportive husbands. And many households now employ domestic helpers to manage the household chores and take care of the children. 

Maggie Gyllenhaal's Charlotte Dalrymple is a feisty woman who is way ahead of her time. Initially, when I first met the character of Charlotte Dalrymple, I was very overwhelmed by her enthusiasm, her wit, her sarcasm, and her passion. Having watched many period dramas, I was surprised she wasn't already in prison at the beginning of the film for her wild behaviour. Watching Maggie Gyllenhaal play this role was familiar. It reminded me of her turn as Giselle Levy in Mona Lisa Smile. Both were strong female characters who wouldn't back down from their beliefs, and both were very well portrayed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. 

And playing a character that is the absolute opposite of Charlotte Dalrymple is her sister Emily. Played by the very charming Felicity Jones, Emily was the epitome of what women were supposed to be like in those days. She gave an excellent performance representing the women in her time; gentle, slightly arrogant (considering her station), and the perfect accessory to men of those times. Looking back at the films I've already seen her in, it was interesting to see her as a meek gentle lady when I've seen her tough as nails side in Chalet Girl

Now actor Hugh Dancy really knocked this one out of the park. I first noticed Hugh Dancy in Ella Enchanted and have since followed him with his films like Adam, Confessions Of A Shopaholic, The Jane Austen Club, and now Hysteria. He's not the drop dead gorgeous type of male lead, but the charming gentlemanly sort that impress you over time. I loved his performance in Adam and of the films I've seen him in so far, Hysteria is second only to Adam

While I find the pairing of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy a little odd, I find their individual performances in the film wondrously charming to watch. And even their biting remarks against one another made it fun to watch. Hysteria is touted as a romantic comedy, but I wish the romantic leads had more scenes together. Their paths intersect too little for the audience to get a real feel of their feelings for one another. While I am able to see the infatuation and emotion in both leads at the end, I am left wondering, "what happened in between?" 

The film is hilarious and I find myself laughing so very loudly throughout the film. It is perhaps because of the subject matter and knowing how the vibrator came about through the film tickles me to no end. The innuendoes suggested throughout the film that makes it so funny. You see, what we see today as a sex toy, was really discovered for medical purposes. In truth, Maggie Gyllenhaal's Charlotte is a representation of our modern views of the vibrator, while Hugh Dancy's Mortimer is a representation of the willingness and openness to change and modern thinking. 

Another theme that is evident in the film is passion. At the start of the film, we see Mortimer's passion for medical advancement and change. And then he meets a woman, Charlotte, who is the female version of him but he is taken aback because of the dictates of that period of how a woman should conduct herself. Both are passionate characters, if only they would see how perfect they are for each other. It takes a while, but eventually, they both get there. 

"I would take a partner, an equal. But not for me a life of darning socks and doing chores until my mental facilities become Sunday pudding." - Charlotte Dalrymple

Charlotte Dalrymple, my friend, I totally agree with you. But while I have sometimes worn the pants in the relationship, I do like to be pampered and cared for by my partner. Its really very hard to find someone who can strike the right balance with you in a relationship. But hopefully, one day I will. 

(1) Hugh Dancy has acted in films like Black Hawk Down (2001), King Arthur (2004), Ella Enchanted (2004), The Jane Austen Book Club (2007), Evening (2007), Confessions Of A Shopaholic (2009), and Adam (2009). He also plays the role of Will Graham in the television series Hannibal (2013).

(2) Maggie Gyllenhaal has acted in films like Donnie Darko (2001), Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2001), Adaptation (2002), 40 Days And 40 Nights (2002), Secretary (2002), Mona Lisa Smile (2003), World Trade Center (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Crazy Heart (2009), and Nanny McPhee Returns (2010). 

(3) Felicity Jones has acted in films like Brideshead Revisited (2008), Like Crazy (2011), and Chalet Girl (2011). 

(4) Rupert Everett has acted in films like My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), Shakespeare In Love (1998), Inspector Gadget (1999), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), The Next Best Thing (2000), The Importance Of Being Earnest (2002), Stage Beauty (2004), Stardust (2007), St. Trinian's  (2007), St. Trinian's II: The Legend of Fritton's Gold (2009), and Wild Target (2010).

The Eclectic Reviewer thinks… you would go hysterical watching Hysteria. It isn't a film just about the inventor of the vibrator, it is a film that reminds you to stand for what is right and what you believe in. And it will surely remind you what women in those days had to endure, and how lucky we are to have to obtained the rights we have today. (3.5 of 5)

* Movie Poster from Wikipedia

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