I saw Hysteria and Beasts of the Southern Wild at the cinema today -- the former, a Victorian-era comedy about the invention of the vibrator; and the latter, a parable surrounding a young girl's feral existence in a Louisiana bayou that's ravaged by a storm.
Hysteria could have gone in any number of directions, but stays witty, if broad, as opposed to offering a Carry On-type romp or something blatantly sexual. Based on true events, this well-cast film comes to the screen via some less than prolific people with regards to the writing, producing of the film and direction. It's accomplished, however, albeit thin in places, with a dual narrative that occasionally falls flat. Here, Hugh Dancy and Jonathan Pryce are doctors who specialise in relieving women of hysteria via masturbation, but this becomes problematic when Dancy's wrist can't take the workload. Enter Rupert Everett, on zany form, as he invents the vibrator on the incentive of Dancy. The other part of the story concerns Maggie Gyllenhaal's proto-suffragette, who doesn't buy into the notion of hysteria, despite playing the daughter of its leading proponent. Her concern is equality, education and better living-standards for women and children. At times, she's quite full-on in her role, but well-cast, all the same. As are Pryce, Dancy and Everett, who is a gem here. At times, the lean towards feminist mores comes with a heavy hand, but there's plenty of laughs, despite the fluttering narrative and a joke that's a bit overstretched.
Beasts of the Southern Wild was written and directed by newcomer Benh Zeitlin, who has only two or three credits to his name in either capacity. But he's a veteran next to the two leading actors, young Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry, who make their acting debuts here. And it's a startlingly good film, masterfully created, with an astonishing performance by Wallis, who is my first Oscar pick of the year thus far. Henry should find similar plaudits as Wallis' father, who, on the surface, seems to be little more than a bad tempered drunk of a man. The world around them is seen through Wallis' eyes, her imagination often tapped into, but here, in a world of poverty, squalor and no aspirations, its a sense of community met with survival that's imparted on this determined young girl. This is challenging, original and daring cinema that plays against expectations and the kind of world view that would play entirely different from an alternate perspective. One of 2012's best films.