Talk about a memorable movie pitch.
“This is the vibrator movie you can bring your mom to,” says “Hysteria” director Tanya Wexler, who grew up in Lincoln Park. “You want to see something about the vibrator that you can’t bring your mom to? I can tell you where to go: It’s called the Internet and you can see anything that makes you uncomfortable about the vibrator you ever wanted any day of the week. I think ‘Hysteria’ has a little more meat on its bones.”
romantic comedy about the doctor (Hugh Dancy) who invented the vibrator in 1880 London for healing purposes—an extension of his work offering “pelvic massage” to women diagnosed with hysteria—hinges on the unlikely synthesis of Victorian England and a now widely available sex toy without the female oppression or graphic sexuality that might imply.
At the Peninsula Hotel, the 41-year-old filmmaker who now lives in New York talked about her own discovery of the vibrator, how sexuality makes people blush and what celebs might want a certain something as a gift. She also recognized that a scene in the movie, in which a man acts as if allowing women to control the rights of their bodies would be like teaching them to fly, has taken on new resonance in the wake of recent political action.
“That was the part of the script that made me go, ‘See, oh my God. See how far we’ve come!,’” she says. “And now it makes me go, ‘Mmm, still kinda resonant.’”
Without getting too personal, at what age do you feel like you became aware of the vibrator, and what would that version of yourself say if you could tell her she was going to make a movie about its invention?
[Laughs.] Gosh! Wow! I need one of these. [Fist-bumps me.] You totally just asked me a question I’ve never been asked. That’s blankety-blank awesome. That’s [bleeping] awesome. I mean, aware like I knew they existed, or aware like aware? [Laughs.]
Whatever you want to tell me ...
When did “Parenthood” come out?
So I was 19 … so around then. I remember there’s a scene where someone in that family comes out, and it is in Dianne Wiest’s house in that scene, and brings out a white dildo-shaped vibrator and goes, “What’s this?!” right in the middle of chaos. Everyone stops and looks and Dianne Wiest goes, “An electric ear-cleaner, honey!” And everyone laughs. I remember that still. And some horribly creepy movie with Anthony Hopkins where there was a horrible vibrator dildo stabby weapon where he plays some psycho killer. Not Anthony Hopkins, the other one, who plays Norman Bates?
Anthony Perkins. Somethingkins. I can’t remember what it’s called.
What would the 19-year-old version of yourself say knowing she’d make a movie about this?
The 19-year-old version of myself would say, “I’m going to make a movie?!” [Laughs.] I didn’t know I wanted to be a film director until I was 21. Literally I remember because I thought I was going to be an actor. And if I thought I was going to make a movie at 19, I would have been like, “I’m going to be in a movie about the vibrator?”
“Leave me alone; I just discovered the vibrator.”
Exactly, that’s what my 19-year-old self would have said. “Finally! Where have you been all my life?” As soon as I knew I wanted to direct I would not have been surprised by that.
“Hysteria” begins by saying, “This story is based on true events. Really.” Why do you think people might not believe this?
[Laughs.] I don’t know, what about you? Why do you think? I think that’s the big joke, actually. I think the big joke is not the vibrator; I think the big joke is this really happened. This was the treatment for hysteria and the vibrator was invented for a man. It was a time-saving, labor-saving device for a guy. And probably still is. [Laughs.] When guys get threatened by it, you should be like, “Dude, we’re not trying to replace you. Just give you a break!” [Laughs.]