Yeah, that kind of feel-good. Based on a true story and scheduled to open Friday at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, Hysteria unfolds in late 19th-century London — a time when modern medicine amounted to a jar of leeches, theories about germs were “poppycock,” and the plague of the era was hysteria among women.

Per Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), its feelings of melancholia were caused by an “overactive uterus.” The most effective treatment the physician could offer — as he demonstrates to his dashing new assistant, Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy, Martha Marcy May Marlene) — was “vulva massage” to induce “paroxysm.”

Today, we know it as the orgasm, whereas back then, male-dominated medicine refused to believe a woman could experience pleasure outside the act of intercourse. That changes once Granville, experiencing carpal tunnel from treating a full load, happens upon the idea of an electric
feather duster to do his work for him. (It’s too bad theaters no longer
employ the Sensurround system of 1974’s Earthquake.)

goes over like gangbusters, and today, the vibrator is the world’s
bestselling sex toy. However, this bit of oddball history gets shoved to
the side so director Tanya Wexler may insert romantic elements to juice
up Granville’s love life, in the form of Dalrymple’s dueling daughters.

Emily (Felicity Jones, Like Crazy) is the prim and proper one studying phrenology, much to her father’s doting delight; Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart) is the black-sheep feminist who roots for suffragism and detests such hoity-toity talk like, “Are
the parsnips to your liking?” Who do you think will win Granville’s
heart? Exactly.

Predictability is least worrisome of Hysteria’s troubles,
because Dancy and Gyllenhaal undertake each step of the rom-com dance
with admirable glee. What diminishes its mild level of joy is how
embarrassed it seems at its own unique subject — the very thing that
separates it from the fray. I’m not even sure why the movie bears an R
rating, since nothing objectionable is ever seen — how could we with the
film blushing so bright?

is that the treatment sequences resort to sitcom-style humor that
stoops to the easiest of laughs: The requisite buttoned-up elderly woman
screams “Tally ho! Tally ho!” at a point of climax, while a rather
rotund patient belts opera at hers.

No, Ms. Wexler, those parsnips are not to my liking. They taste a little too bland.

Hey! Read This:
Martha Marcy May Marlene film review

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Rod Lott

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