Here’s a film that could easily have been tasteless, leering, and puerile, but instead Tanya Wexler’s Hysteria is funny, charming, warm, smart, and probably the best romantic comedy in years. The film’s title comes from the then-common medical practice of labeling all manner of female complaints (especially anything related to sex and sexuality) with the catch-all term “hysteria.” A young doctor, Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), who has been kicked out of a number of positions over his new-fangled ideas about germs and infections and ends up in the employ of upscale specialist Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose specialty lies in treating women diagnosed with hysteria. The treatment for the condition involves the use of peculiarly demure curtained enclosures so the patient can’t watch as the doctor manually induces a “paroxym” to alleviate the condition. Not surprisingly, the young, good-looking Granville becomes very good for business, pleasing Dalrymple to no end. In the bargain, Granville finds himself part of the Dalrymple household, which includes Dalrymple’s accomplished (as in she plays the piano and studies phrenology) and dutiful daughter Emily (Felicity Jones, Like Crazy), and, occasionally, her older sister, the far from dutiful Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who not only promotes women’s suffrage, but she runs a help center in the slums and is very outspoken. It is not the most settled of households, though Granville adapts to it well enough, even to the extent of becoming virtually engaged to Emily. But he ultimately can’t adapt to the damage to his hand the job induces. And that leads to his discharge, until he prompts his experimentally inclined, dissolute friend Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) to adapt his prototype electric feather duster into the personal vibrator. Wexler’s direction is flawless throughout, but much of what makes Hysteria such an unalloyed pleasure lies in its array of absolutely enchanting performances.
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