Hysteria fails to stimulate

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In 1880, Dr. Mortimer Granville came up with a “pelvic massage” device that became the fifth household appliance to be electrified, after the sewing machine, fan, toaster, and tea kettle.

This movie isn’t really about any of that. It takes as a given that modern audiences will be amused by Victorian-era women being called crazy when their simple sexual (or other) needs were constantly frustrated. Well, let’s see how that plays out in Alabama, where vibrators are still illegal, and among various fundamentalists deeply frightened by any assertion of female self-actualization.

Chicago-born director Tanya Wexler, working with a script by two Texans, was right to set her film in 19th-century London, with the high collars and funny accents and all. I’m not sure how it benefits the story to make Granville someone who stammers and stumbles his way into sexual enlightenment. Guess it would be unseemly for the fellow to seem too confident.

Young Morty, here played by Hugh Dancy, makes his high-tech breakthrough thanks to adorable harassment from a philanthropic suffragette (Maggie Gyllenhaal, attempting a Katharine Hepburn, and failing). She’s the rebellious daughter of stuffy Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who has grown rich giving “hysterical paroxysms” to upper-class women, presented here as ridiculous figures. Elsewhere, the senior doc’s other offspring (Like Crazy’s charming Felicity Jones) must be ritually humiliated, presumably to make us accept the nonexistent chemistry between the leads.

Granville, who is hired to help Dalrymple and soon suffers debilitating hand cramps, also succeeds with his new app thanks to the help of a relentless electrical tinkerer played effortlessly by a bearded Rupert Everett. Well, something had to come easily amidst the forced whimsy and missed opportunities of this frantically mediocre movie.


Watch the trailer for Hysteria.

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