Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, Gemma Jones
Written by: Stephen Dyer, Jonah Lisa Dyer, based on a story by Stephen Dyer, Jonah Lisa Dyer, Howard Gensler
Directed by: Tanya Wexler
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content
Running Time: 100
Date: 09/15/2011

Hysteria (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Creating a Buzz

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Borrowing a tone and approach from The Full Monty, director Tanya Wexler tackles the topic of human sexuality in a coy, cute way that allows her not to show any nudity or say anything vulgar. This approach will make Hysteria appeal to a much wider audience than something more direct, like Shame, but it also avoids an actual discourse on the topic; it merely leaves people feeling good about being more modern and open-minded than the citizens of 1880s were.

In 1880s London, Young doctor Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) keeps losing jobs because he wishes to use modern scientific knowledge as opposed to the old, traditional methods. He winds up working for Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who treats "hysteria" in women by providing orgasms. There, Mortimer begins courting the doctor's pretty daughter Emily (Felicity Jones), but also meets Emily's sister, the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who spends her time treating the poor and downtrodden for little financial gain. The hysteria business is booming, however, and as Mortimer's exhausted hand begins to give him trouble, his friend and benefactor (Rupert Everett) has come up with an invention that could change everything.

Hysteria gets most of its jokes from the juxtaposition of prudishness and sex, as characters slowly find themselves freed from primitive thinking, and it's easy to laugh along. Though the cast is charming, Maggie Gyllenhaal's character is the most admirable of the bunch, but she's also the most misplaced, bringing an idea of women's liberation to a time that most certainly wasn't ready for it. In his small supporting role, Rupert Everett provides the movie's freest, loosest humor, drolly enjoying his own bad behavior. But overall, this movie is a stiff.

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