Flick Of The Week: Hysteria

This charming piffle, set in 1880, concerns what one character describes as, “the plague of our time”—an overactive uterus. Yes, Hysteria chronicles the invention of the vibrator. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a doctor who wants to treat patients and make his own way in the world. He eventually lands a job working for Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) doing vulva massage for his “hysterical” patients—women who are unhappy and/or dissatisfied—and he develops a stiff right hand treating dozens of women. He also finds himself unexpectedly desiring Dalrymple’s “Socialist” and “disagreeable” daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who of course, needs some of Mortimer’s services. Hysteria is hardly novel despite its subject matter. (The story is by Philadelphia Daily News writer Howard Gensler). This gentle film plays more like a chaste romantic Victorian comedy than a naughty farce. It is pretty and witty, and most of the laughs come from one-liners by the rich, “eccentric” Lord Edmund St. John Smythe (Rupert Everett). Smythe helps devise the “device that makes [things] feel all warm and tingly right down to the bone,” which is something the filmmakers hope to do to audiences. The film will certainly tickle the fancy of undemanding viewers, though others will require a bit more stimulation.

ALSO OPENING:

The Fairy For viewers unfamiliar with Belgian comedy duo Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, The Fairy is a whimsical introduction to their inventive slapstick wackiness. Dom (Abel) is a night shift hotel clerk who meets Fiona (Gordon), a wish-granting fairy one night. She grants him two wishes before they are separated; then Dom has to find and save Fiona. The plot is a flimsy excuse to hang the team’s patented blend of playful physical comedy—Dom rolling down flights of stairs at the hotel—and creative dance sequences—both underwater and on a rooftop. There are also terrific sight gags—one literally involves an optically impaired bartender at the Love is Blurred café—and one is literally running joke, in which various characters are chased on the streets of Le Havre. The Fairy certainly works best for viewers who give themselves over to the candy-colored charms of Abel and Gordon’s film. Watching the pair try to hide under the same trench coat to escape from a hospital is silly, but for anyone who appreciate great physical comedy it is pricelessly funny.

For Greater Glory The important, true story of the Cristeros—religious freedom fighters who declared war against the Federales (government) in post-Revolutionary Mexico (1926)—is given a big screen treatment in the sweeping historical epic, For Greater Glory. This painfully earnest film, dripping with overwrought music, unexciting slow-motion action sequences, and wretched dialogue—“Men will fire bullets, but God will decide where they land!”—does its heroes a disservice. Facts about several characters shown over the end credits are more interesting than what is on screen. And telenovias have more subtlety. President Plutarco Elias Calles (Ruben Blades) closes down the churches and holy services, and has his men shoot the Anglican priest (Peter O’Toole, in a wide-eyed performance). As the Cristeros (“Christ’s Army”) rally against the government, Catholic sisters smuggle ammo against their bellies, and the men ask Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Andy Garcia) to lead them—even though he is not fond of the church. Velarde’s conflict is underdeveloped, but a subplot about Jose (Mauricio Kuri), a young boy who dedicates himself to the Cristeros against his father’s wishes, is played out as grand, sappy melodrama. As For Greater Glory lumbers on for almost 2 ½ hours, the noisy, badly staged shootouts and lackluster ambushes provide few engaging moments. This film is unforgettable, but not in the way anyone involved might hope.

High School A stoner comedy about a teen (Matt Bush) who tries to get his whole high school high when his academic career is threatened by random drug testing.

The Intouchables A heartwarming true story about Philippe (François Cluzet), a wealthy Parisian quadriplegic who hires Driss (Omar Sy), a Senegalese caretaker. The men couldn’t be an odder couple—Philippe is cultured, collecting art and Fabergé eggs, listening to classical music and attending the opera, and having an epistolary relationship with a woman from Dunkirk. Driss, is an unemployed, street smart guy from the projects, who shares a small apartment with a dozen relatives, smokes grass, and listens to Earth, Wind, and Fire. Before viewers can say, “Driving Miss Daisy meets The Blind Side,” Driss is moving on up to a deluxe bedroom with his own tub. He grapples, obviously, with having to bathe and feed Philippe—though there is a very funny shaving scene late in the film. Driss also learns about Philippe’s disability—how he can’t feel anything from the neck down, and his ears are his erogenous zones. Of course, the men teach each other how to live. Driss gets Philippe stoned, helps him with a romantic situation. He also gets Philippe to administer some tough love to his daughter. Philippe helps Driss, who thinks he’s a budding artist, sell a painting and appreciate some of the finer things in life. Sure, Driss hates the opera, and recognizes classic music from advertisements, but Philippe smiles watching his caretaker dance to “Boogie Wonderland.” This moment—a magical scene in a film full of enjoyable moments—shows why Philippe appreciates Driss; because he treats him without pity. This is the film’s takeaway message, and if The Intouchables is somewhat manipulative in how it depicts its issues of race, class, and disability, it is crowd-pleasing nonetheless.

Last Call at the Oasis Jessica Yu’s documentary traces our dwindling global water supply.

Piranha 3DD More big breasted babes in bikinis, as penis-eating pirahnas wreck havoc in a waterpark in this sequel to last year’s remake. (See interview with Chris Zylka).

Snow White and the Huntsman Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth play the title characters, and Charlize Theron is the Evil Queen in this retelling of the classic fairy tale.

Where Do We Go Now Women in a small town beset by religious differences try to stop the men from killing each other in this award-winning film by Nadine Labaki.

 

Gary Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based film critic who thinks Sandra Bullock mambos. He likes eating ethnic food and watching ethnic movies—though not necessarily both at the same time or from the same country.

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