Set in 1880s London and shot in the U.K. and Luxembourg, the new movie "Hysteria" kept its footprint low by recycling on set, using diesel vehicles and minding the budget. "We were a very lean production," reports director Tanya Wexler, whose film opens in New York and Los Angeles May 18 and wider over the next few weeks. A charming romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator, it stars Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Felicity Jones, Jonathan Pryce and Rupert Everett and has a lot to say about customs of the time and the fact that attitudes towards sex really haven't changed that much in 140 years.
The title comes from the catchall diagnosis women received at the time for a wide variety of complaints, the prescribed diagnosis for which was digital manipulation of the nether regions. Not surprisingly, this was big business for physicians like young Dr. Granville (Dancy), who signs on to assist veteran Dr. Dalrymple (Pryce) in his practice and meets his diametrically opposite daughters, the demure Emily (Jones) and fiery Charlotte (Gyllenhaal), a non-conforming social activist, and a parade of happy-ending-seeking patients. When Granville's best friend (Everett), a wealthy inventor, comes up with an electric feather duster, he sees a solution to alleviate his aching right hand — and treat patients faster.
It's fodder for comedy, but Wexler, who spent seven years trying to get the movie made, suspects that future generations may view current youth-chasing practices like injecting Botox as equally absurd. She also points out the continuing human tendency to "take what we don't understand and turn it into a condition," and demonize those who don't fit easily into societal boxes or roles prescribed for them. Settlement house worker Charlotte, inspired by such real-life activists as Jane Addams, founder of Chicago's Hull House, exemplifies that. "There were women like her, but they were certainly the outliers," says Wexler, calling the relatably modern Charlotte "the beating heart" of the movie.
She hopes that audiences go for the laughs but come out "feeling great, empowered and enthused," thinking about the messages of following your convictions and empowering oneself. "You're in charge of your own happiness. And it doesn't take a doctor to get it!" says Wexler, who shot a featurette and running commentary for the future DVD. She says the most challenging scene to shoot was a dining room scene that required reaction shots from all the actors and needed to be shot multiple times from many angles. "The poor actors learned very quickly to take small bites," she says.
What's next for the New York-based mother of four? "I have something in the works with Paula Patton, and a dramedy I'm developing myself," the director reveals.