Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tanya Wexler: Hysteria

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Hysteria, Sony Pictures Classics, 2012.

Touching effervescently on tried themes of feminism, misogyny, and sexuality, director Tanya Wexler displays considerable dexterity at her work; after the wreck that was Snow White, watching her easy rhythms was a pleasure to behold.

Working from an excellent script filled with sparkling dialogue, written by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer, Wexler maximizes the screwball inanity of her stiff upper lipped characters. Set in Victorian England at the (semi-fantasized) birth of Women's Rights, we are still bound to a plot, though, where a male protagonist experiences the sexual revolution via several secondary female characters.

In Hugh Dancy, Wexler utilizes an old-fashioned movie star, likeable and identifiable to the audience. His blustery, self-effacing  presence goes a long way to making the film as enjoyable as it is. As a young doctor who finds himself in a new practice with an old doctor ( a great Jonathan Pryce) who specializes in releasing the "hysteria" or sexual tension, of society women, Dancy's boyish Brit demeanor coalesces with Wexler's intentions wonderfully. Many hilarious set pieces ensue.

As the central female character, the fiercely progressive daughter of the doctor, Maggie Gyllenhaal is kinetic in her possession of the role. As her seemingly docile sister, Felicity Jones is delightful. Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, and Gemma Jones all shine.

Sophie Becher's sets and Nic Ede's costumes both go hand in hand in helping us to believe in Wexler's little world. Sean Bobbit's camera work is crisp and illustrious, capturing the sheen of Victorian London. Though the whole affair does not feel entirely fresh, the birth of the vibrator subplot does, hilariously so..

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