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posted: 5/24/2012 6:00 AM

'Hysteria' interesting, but doesn't quite hit the spot

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  • Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), left, and his rich inventor roommate Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) co-create something for Victorian ladies in Tanya Wexler's historical comedy "Hysteria."

      Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), left, and his rich inventor roommate Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) co-create something for Victorian ladies in Tanya Wexler's historical comedy "Hysteria."

  • Video: "Hysteria" trailer

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: 'Hysteria'
If Walt Disney had actually created a movie about the invention of the electric vibrator, it would look exactly like Tanya Wexler's salubriously filtered period comedy "Hysteria."

The characters come in easy-to-digest types who engage in an adults-only subject softened to sanitized proportions by a sense of comically challenged whimsy and a dull, lustless treatment.

In Victorian England, Hugh Dancy's motivated and idealistic young protégé Dr. Mortimer Granville winds up in the employment of Jonathan Pryce's genteel and pragmatic mentor Dr. Dalrymple, a physician specializing in treating women's "hysteria" by manually releasing their, uh, tensions.

But servicing daily battalions of uptight English women is exhausting for the physicians. Good thing Mortimer's roommate, an ultrarich scientist named Edmund (Rupert Everett in high comic overdrive), has experimented with electricity and produced the world's first electric fan.

Mortimer instantly sees the possibility of adapting the fan for his professional needs, providing English society with the greatest personal happiness enhancement in the days before Viagra.

Dr. Dalrymple conveniently has two polar opposite daughters: the proper and dignified Emily (Felicity Jones) and the fiery suffragette Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Mortimer is engaged to the former, but, naturally, attracted to the latter.

"Hysteria" claims to be based on true events, but the humor is too restrained and the plot too transparent for it to work as either a bawdy adult sex comedy or a glorified Victorian England sitcom.

"Hysteria" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago, the Renaissance Place in Highland Park and the Evanston CineArts 6. Rated R for sexual situations. 95 minutes. ★ ★ ˝

Me a pundit? Really?
Man, I take a week off to visit my actress daughter Lauren Elaine Taylor in New York and what happens? I'm ambushed by letters from people who think I'm redder than an embarrassed skunk.

First came this memo from Lake Barrington resident Jim Thompson, who writes: "So much for Mr. Jim Slusher's vaunted unbiased Daily Herald! Dann Gire inserted an attempted zinger of the Tea Party into his 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' review on May 11.

Dear Dann: Contrary to your left-wing ideology and zealotry, the Tea Party is alive and well and earnestly fighting to return America to its roots, which means replacing President Obama's French socialism with capitalism. Perhaps you've heard of it -- it's what brought America to its place of prominence in the world."

Dear Jim: You're referring to my preview capsule of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" (now opening in 2013). The plot, according to the studio, involves the government becoming so big that it turns on the good guys in the American military. I asked the rhetorical question, "Is this a Tea Party movie?" assuming the Tea Party followers would embrace the premise. Seriously, Jim, I fail to see how this is a "zinger" of the Tea Party. I am apparently blinded by my "left-wing ideology and zealotry."

Next, Raymond P. Whalen of Arlington Heights attacked me for reporting political comments from Palatine native and controversial rocker Ted Nugent and then "associating" Nugent with presidential contender Mitt Romney. He wrote, "This is a typical liberal trick."

Whalen also wrote, "Mr. Gire writes movie reviews, which qualifies him as a political pundit."

Dear Mr. Whalen: Forbes magazine voted Roger Ebert as the most powerful pundit in America. He's a movie critic. So I suppose there is some logic to your quantum leap from motion picture punning to political punditry. But I can't take any of the credit here.

Check our Nugent story and you'll see that my "From Suburbs to Showbiz" partner Jamie Sotonoff wrote it.

Thanks for thinking of me, however.

Love & hate & movies
Dann: Loved "Dark Shadows." Hated "The Avengers." -- Fred Spitzzeri, Naperville

Dear Fred: Maybe I should consider a career switch to political punditry.

Holy grail! It's Monty!
A remastered digital print of the hilarious comedy "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" will be shown Friday, May 25, at midnight at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. Tickets go for a cheap $5. Not only will the 1975 film be shown with the theater's 4k digital projection system (super sharp), as a bonus, the Tivoli will also show Terry Gilliam's "Lost Animations," which I believe has never been shown in Chicagoland. Go to classiccinema.com and pull down Tivoli on the theater menu.

Critic's notebook:
• An animated 2-D movie that I really wanted to see in 3-D: "The Pirates! Band of Misfits."

• "Piranha 3DD," sequel to 2010's smart and playful thriller "Piranha 3-D," will not be screened for critics before its June 1 release. Should this really be called "Piranha 3FF"?

• In New York last week, I ran into the late Josephine Baker's son, Jean-Claude Baker, at his 42nd Street restaurant, appropriately called Chez Josephine. I asked Jean-Claude how close he was to his mother, the culture-crashing, cutting-edge black dancer played by Lynn Whitfield in 1990s bold drama "The Josephine Baker Story."

"Close," Jean-Claude told me, "as close as you can be to a diva."

• In New York, I also finally got to see Julie Taymor's critically bashed, injury-prone, litigation-spawning box office hit musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

Here's one musical you want to see from the balcony. Most of the amazing action takes place in the air above the main floor.

Eleven actors and stuntmen play Spider-Man (which I wish hadn't been revealed during the show) and they are the reasons to see "Turn Off the Dark," not the forgettable lyrics, inconsistent direction, functional dialogue and the ridiculous aerial coupling of Peter Parker with the magical goddess Arachne.

Meanwhile, Tony-nominated actor Andrew Garfield ("Death of a Salesman") hits the silver screen as Parker in the anxiously awaited comic book reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man," opening July 3.

• The horror film "The Chernobyl Diaries" wasn't screened in time for newspaper deadlines this week. But efilmcritic.com writer (and Elk Grove Village resident) Erik Childress notes that this didn't stop Warner Bros. from digging up quotes from Dread Central's Steve Barton, who called the movie, "Nail-biting to the bone chills." What?

• The 19th Annual Chicago Underground Film Festival runs Thursday, May 31, through Thursday, June 7 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Chicago. Go to cuff.org.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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