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Tribeca 2012: Hysteria

The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 18th to April 29th. Jeff Hart and Jeremiah White are there and will be seeing a shitload of movies.

Ah, the elusive female orgasm. In 1880s England, such a thing does not exist. Women are perceived as incapable of feeling pleasure without the penetration of the male member, so obviously they aren't allowed to vote or anything either.

Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), known about town as a progressive young doctor because he believes in crazy things like germ theory, takes a position as assistant to London's foremost healer of female hysteria. Female hysteria, by the way, is a catch all for whatever depresses or agitates a woman. The treatment is rigorous finger-banging. For untreatable cases, institutionalization and uterus removal.

Eventually, Mortimer and his rich bon vivant benefactor Edmund (Rupert Everett – seriously good for a laugh every time he’s on screen) will invent England's first electric massager. A vibrator. Women everywhere rejoice, as does our doctor's sore wrist. Along the way, of course, Mortimer will learn a thing or two about the fairer sex, thanks largely to the perpetually “hysterical” Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal doing a British accent), a feisty sufragette who administers a halfway house in one of London's poorest districts.

Hysteria's marriage of historical farce with romantic comedy is not always a successful one. The worst elements of both genres sometimes come elbowing to the forefront. The film is too reliant one two particular jokes: 1) winking historical quaintness ("by jove, wouldn't it be amazing if everyone had a telephone?") and 2) the female orgasm as experienced by various aged British ladies. Rom com cliches abound down the stretch; heartfelt speechifying before captive audiences, grand professions of love, etc.

What results is both genres getting short changed. The cheeky history of the vibrator takes a while to get moving and ends with a too quick gloss ("here's your vibrator money, chum!"). And yet, the romance feels similarly underdeveloped, with the players not getting nearly enough time together to build proper chemistry.

That's a lot of criticism for a film I actually enjoyed. The cast is extraordinarily charming with their sexy and smart British accents, top hats and such. The script bops along at such a brisk pace that there's no time to waste analyzing the thinness of these relationships or the feather light historical context. Though they could use more scenes, Dancy and Gyllenhaal still pop when together, even if their send 'em home happy romance feels like a foregone conclusion.

Hysteria is most definitely a trifle, but as romantic comedies go, you could do far worse. Considering this country's recent glut of debate over women's bodies, perhaps it's also a timely film. We could all stand a few more freely orgasming women around here.

VERDICT:  See it.

British orgasms are much more dry and cerebral.

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