For a movie about the invention of the world’s most popular sex toy, Hysteriais rather coy and giggly about sexual relations. Very loosely based on the true story of the development of the electronic vibrator, Hysteria is full of silly double entendres and lazy humor derived from the irony of people in the 1880s being unaware of obvious truths that we now take for granted.
Hugh Dancy plays a dashing London doctor who treats women for the titular condition, a convenient medical dismissal for what is actually sexual frustration. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the free-spirited modern woman who spars with (and then, in predictable rom-com fashion, falls in love with) the progressive doctor.
There’s some mild amusement in Hysteria’s parade of prim Victorian women experiencing unexpected sexual release, but most of its humor is overly self-satisfied, and the late-film effort to turn the story into a parable of women’s rights (complete with ludicrous courtroom speechifying) falls completely flat.