Hysteria (2011)


You'll find this in the dictionary under "knowing look."

You’ll find this in the dictionary under “knowing look.”

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett, Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, Felicity Jones, Gemma Jones, Anna Chancellor, Malcolm Rennie, Kim Criswell, Georgie Glen, Elisabet Johannesdottir, Linda Woodhall, Kim Selby, John Overstall, Ann Comfort, Jonathan Rhodes, Leila Schaus, Ellie Jacob. Directed by Tanya Wexler

Medicine is a field of study that is ever changing. What we KNOW for sure one year is medieval foolishness the next. The human body is a mystery that we have yet to get a real handle on.

In Victorian times, medicine was positively barbaric. Going to a doctor was just as liable to get you killed as the illness or injury you had. Still, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Some scientific sorts were challenging widely-held beliefs through research and the scientific method. Things we today take for granted – the changing of bandages on wounds to prevent infection, the washing of hands before examinations and surgeries, these things were brand new then.

Given the Victorian view on women, it is unsurprising that their mood swings, feelings of frustration and general anxieties were all lumped together not so much as female foolishness but as a catch-all diagnosis – hysteria. Women could be committed to asylums or jailed because of it, or if criminally charged could have forced hysterectomies performed on them (and yes, that is where the term comes from).

However, there were doctors who treated that sort of thing. Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Pryce) was one. He had discovered that women with these complaints (and other similar ones) often found relief by a technique that involved manual stimulation of the genitalia. With a discrete tent-like curtain up, he would let his fingers do the walking and soon enough the woman would experience what he called a paroxysm. It’s what we today call an orgasm, although it was thought at the time that females didn’t experience sexual pleasure. Medieval foolishness, remember?

Anyway, his practice is getting so large that he needs to take on some additional help and it looks like Dr. Mortimer Granville (Dancy) is just the ticket. While he has a tendency to question the methods of established physicians which has basically put him in a position where nobody is willing to hire him, he manages to convince Dr. Dalrymple that he will behave himself. Seeing as Dr. Dalrymple is desperate not to mention that his field of expertise is frowned upon by the medical establishment, it seems they both need each other.

Granville being young and handsome soon becomes a hit with the female patients, but also with the residents of Dr. Dalrymple’s home including Emily (F. Jones), Dr. Dalrymple’s youngest daughter and a proper Victorian lady at that; and Charlotte (Gyllenhaal), his oldest who is the source of all the good doctor’s grey hair. Miss Charlotte you see is a non-conformist, a sort of pre-feminist who runs a shelter paid for by dear old papa who more than likely is happy enough to get her out of his sight. There’s also the randy young maid Molly (Smith) who flirts outrageously with the good Dr. Granville.

Dr. Dalrymple is having none of that however. He feels that Dr. Granville is a fine catch, someone who can partner with him in the practice and marry his youngest to seal the deal. However, Dr. Granville is becoming a victim of his own success; he has begun to develop muscular cramping and pain – most likely what we would call Carpal Tunnel syndrome. However his good friend Edmund St. John-Smythe (Everett), a kind of brilliant slacker, has invented an automatic feather duster, the movements of which remind Dr. Granville of the same motions he uses to stimulate his patients. Thus, the vibrator is born.

Female sexuality is still largely taboo in many ways even more than a century later. Our country is just as prudish as Victorians when it comes to women having sex, let alone enjoying it. Even discussing the subject is thought to be perversion. I personally don’t get why but I guess that I’m just slow on the uptake. The movie has a wonderful opportunity to talk about this subject and give it some weight.

Sadly, the filmmakers choose to make it more of a lighthearted farce than an examination of the attitudes towards women in general and their sexuality in particular. Still, the movie does at least invite conversation on the subject which is at least something. It also has the brilliant Maggie Gyllenhaal who takes a movie that occasionally loses focus and gives it life and energy. While occasionally the role of Charlotte becomes strident, Gyllenhaal gives her enough soul to make her sympathetic rather than irritating.

Everett and Pryce, both veterans who are normally counted on for fine performances, give a decent go of it but Dancy who has had some pretty good turns on both the small screen and the big is largely colorless here which is kind of odd for him. If he’d had half the energy Gyllenhaal did this would have been a movie contending for year-end awards. As it is, it is a movie that has some moments both of pathos and humor with a modicum of thought-provoking on the side. Even despite the movie’s flaws that’s still a recipe for success in my book.

WHY RENT THIS: Gyllenhaal is likable indeed and Smith is fabulously sexy here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Trivializes the subject a bit. Too low-key.

FAMILY VALUES: As you would guess from the subject matter, there is plenty of sexuality and sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original electromechanical vibrator was portable but required a wet cell battery that weighed 40 pounds.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An abridged documentary on the female orgasm as well as a Q&A session with Dancy, Wexler and Pryce at the Tribeca Film Festival.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.5M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kinsey

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Real Genius

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Extract


Extract

Kristen Wiig finds out Dustin Milligan has all the right moves.

(Miramax) Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, David Koechner, Clifton Collins Jr., T.J. Miller, Beth Grant, Dustin Milligan, Gene Simmons. Directed by Mike Judge

In the classic 1999 film Office Space, writer/director Mike Judge looked at the life of a cubicle drone in a fairly sympathetic manner. Not only was it one of the most hilarious comedies of the ‘90s, it’s one of the funniest films ever. Despite a lackluster box office performance, it found cult status on home video afterwards.

Now a decade later, Judge is revisiting the work environment in Extract. Here, however, his sights are set on management, in the person of Joel (Bateman), the owner of an extract business (extracts are the flavor essences of various spices, fruits and vegetables used in cooking). His life could use some spice; his workers are mostly a dissatisfied, unmotivated lot. The one who had any enthusiasm at all, Step (Collins), had one of his testicles shorn off in a freak accident caused by one of the shrewish entitlement harpies who decided that she shouldn’t have to work as hard as the temporary worker they recently hired.

Now, Step has been enticed into suing the company by Cindy (Kunis), a self-serving con artist recently hired on as a temp and looking to make some easy money at the company’s expense. She’s convinced the slightly moronic Step that she has the hots for him. Yeah, right…as if. Now, the pending lawsuit is being pursued by rabid dog lawyer Joe Adler (Gene Simmons) just when General Mills is showing interest in buying the company, which would essentially set up Joel and his partner Brian (J.K. Simmons) up for life. Instead, the lawsuit would effectively shut the company down for good.

Things aren’t much better for Joel at home. His wife Suzie (Wiig) has essentially lost interest in sex; if he arrives home after 8pm (which he almost always does), the sweatpants will be cinched tightly around her waist ; once that occurs  any chance he might have at sex that evening gets vaporized. Sometimes, the dreaded sweatpants of abstinence might be on before 8pm. Joel complains about the situations to his good friend Dean (Affleck), a bartender by trade and pothead by avocation who can usually offer bad advice on any subject. This time, his stoner friend advises him to cheat on Suzie but Joel is unable to do it. So Dean recommends that he get Suzie to cheat instead; once she does, he won’t feel as bad about getting sex outside the marriage.

To do this, Joel hires a dimwitted mono-browed gigolo named Brad (Milligan) to seduce his wife, but the plan works too well; Brad falls in love with Suzie and starts to make regular visits. So too does Nathan (Koechner), quite possibly the most annoying neighbor in the history of neighborhoods. Joel’s world is crumbling around him and it isn’t really fair; after all, he’s just a nice guy who only wants to sell cooking extracts – and he’s really, really good at making them.

First of all, this isn’t Office Space. While there’s a similar style to both movies, they’re two completely different kettles of fish; comparing them is kind of a waste of time. Oh, certainly you’ll form an opinion and chances are that if you liked the first movie, you’ll probably like this one too. However, Office Space is far more satirical that this puppy and goes for a much broader kind of humor. Extract makes a lot more hay based on feeling and environment.

Of course, there’s Jason Bateman who is emerging as the kind of likable Everyman sort of guy that used to be the sole province of Greg Kinnear. Bateman’s so completely nice as Joel that you can’t help but root for him. The rest of the cast does pretty good as well, particularly Affleck sporting an al Quaeda beard as the well-intentioned friend. Affleck has really emerged as a reliable supporting actor; I’m curious to see how he does in a lead role again in The Town when it opens later this fall.

Kunis, who has recently been cast in action roles that don’t seem to suit her nearly as much (see Max Payne and The Book of Eli) seems way more comfortable in this comedic Jezebel role. J.K. Simmons and Clifton Collins are both reliable character actors who don’t disappoint here, and Wiig does her best MILF impression as you can see in the photo above.

Extract was overshadowed by comedies like The Hangover and Funny People when it was released last year, and like Office Space didn’t do gangbusters box office. It’s available now on DVD and cable, so do yourself a favor and check it out. Hopefully it’ll get a similar kind of cult following Office Space did on the home video market.

WHY RENT THIS: A return to form by Judge after his godawful Idiocracy. Bateman is becoming adept at the everyman role.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Humor can be pretty scattershot in places.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is a bit foul in places, there are some sexual and adult situations and a little bit of drug use; this probably isn’t for sensitive souls.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gary Cole, who played Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, makes a cameo in the bar scene standing between Dean and Joel.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Get Low