Eleven years ago today, Hysteria was released in theaters. We’re taking this opportunity to celebrate its director, Tanya Wexler!
Tanya Wexler is an American director. Throughout her career, she has directed several feature films, all of which towed the line between comedy and drama. Her first, Finding North (1998), is a queer comedy-drama, about a woman who falls in love with a man who she doesn’t know is gay while on a road trip with him. It’s a classic road trip film with a twist; with this film, Tanya, who is openly lesbian herself, was able to contribute to a repertoire of queer independent films that had just begun to grow in the nineties.
Tanya really found mainstream success with Hysteria (2011), the film for which she’s best known. It is a romantic comedy set in the late 1800s in England, depicting the invention of the vibrator, at the time a tool meant to “treat” women who had been diagnosed with “hysteria”.
Though the premise is funny, it’s also rather sad when you think about the fact that it’s based on a true story. The film depicts a time in which women weren’t taken seriously, and weren’t believed, medically and otherwise. In an interview with FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner, Tanya says, “I made a feminist romantic comedy about a guy, ‘Mortimer Granville’ (Hugh Dancy), a guy who has to kind of wake up to the truth, and a woman, ‘Charlotte Dalrymple’ (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the truth-teller. There’s that moment where he can’t be in denial anymore, right, and the movie’s really about denial, right, about cultural denial.”
Tanya’s next film, Buffaloed (2019) was a success as well, premiering at Tribeca Film Festival where it was very well-received. Buffaloed is about a young woman who grows up in a low income family, who schemes her way into working on Wall Street. Like Hysteria, Buffaloed showcases Tanya’s unapologetic feminism.
In an interview with FF2 Contributor Danielle Solzman, Tanya says of the main character, Peg, “I love that she was an unapologetic female character. I think everybody’s been perfect and usually particularly women and particularly female characters are always apologizing for it and saying, I’m sorry, I’m ambitious or I’m sorry, I’m not this or I’m sorry, I’m so tough or I’m sorry. She didn’t at all. She was just like, I feel I want, I’m going for it, you’re gonna get it. It was really refreshing and fun. I wish I was that empowered. She isn’t perfect. She didn’t always make the most moral or ethical choices but she learned a lot by the end. She is just so damn fun to watch.”
As with Hysteria, there is also a serious social commentary within Buffaloed. In her interview with Danielle, Tanya later states, “I want viewers to have a joyful, fun time. I want them to laugh their butts off. […] I want them to also realize that we need to really look at particularly the healthcare situation in this country. People are having to do things they really shouldn’t have to do to pay their bills.”
A theme throughout Tanya’s career has been evasion of genre: though often categorized as comedies, her films often deal with dark or serious subject matter, rooting them in a reality that Tanya does not take for granted. Though lighthearted and funny at times, her films are not just for entertainment. As a queer woman, Tanya recognizes the nuances of life, which can be funny but also incredibly sad. In her own words, “Right, well, my life is drama and comedy and seriousness and sadness and some of the funniest moments come out of the deepest pain. This idea that your choices are homework or fluff, it bugs me. My life is not one genre.”
© Julia Lasker (12/14/2022) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Amelie Lasker’s tribute to Tanya Wexler here.
Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of Hysteria here.
Read Carlotta Plys-Garzotto’s review of Buffaloed here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: “Hysteria” by canmark is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.