Movie review: Hysteria

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From the June 14, 2012 edition

If you see only one period movie about the invention of the vibrator this week, make it “Hysteria.” Or perhaps don’t.

A bit too cute for its own good, the film buzzes along with a sense of Brit-humor whimsy, but it never quite achieves … well, you know.

Based on “real events,” it follows Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a Victorian-era physician who is forward-thinking in his belief that germs exist and stuff.

Soon he’s working in the office of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce). Their practice employs another radical treatment. They treat “hysteria” in women by stimulating them to that most mysterious of medical phenomena: the female orgasm.

“Hysteria” director Tanya Wexler takes all the playful naughtiness out of the subject, landing more on the romantic-comedy side.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is the other half of that romance, bringing the noise and the spunk. She’s charming. Dancy’s charming. Heck, the whole movie is pretty charming.

It’s also a bit of a mess. Its winking humor relies too much on letting us feel superior to these comically outdated gender ideas. There’s not much more there.

It seems a shame to waste this cast — including Rupert Everett in a fun but underused supporting role and Felicity Jones of “Like Crazy” — on a half-cooked idea.

It’s hardly orgasmic.