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Whirring along like clockwork with less-than-orgasmic results, this Victorian-era comedy about the invention of the vibrator will work for the self-satisfied only—i.e., those who can’t score a hot date with a Merchant Ivory film. What’s a handsome young doctor (nondescript Hugh Dancy) to do when his efforts at modern medicine are rebuffed? A London job hunt results in a promising junior position with fastidious Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose waiting room is crammed with smiling middle-aged women. In the examination chamber (with good-taste curtains in place), we observe the vigorous treatments; mild shivers of laughter reveal audience members who enjoy having their senses of propriety stroked.

There’s nothing strictly wrong with any of this, except for the fact that even a buttoned-down period piece like Topsy-Turvy feels sexier. Curdling its one-note joke, the script pushes forward disparate elements for anyone who might actually be embarrassed: Maggie Gyllenhaal clomps around as a protofeminist libertine, a love interest who’s seen helping small children and abusing table manners in equal measure. Meanwhile, electrical advances turn the private sessions into mock-Frankensteinian experiments, complete with safety goggles; can’t the same remove be said of director Tanya Wexler’s timid handling of the subject? Never do you sense that any hysteria-diagnosed females are headed for the lobotomy room. This is the kind of myth that basically ends with a judge declaring the end of sexism. Paging Dr. Cronenberg…

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

Read our Q&A with Maggie Gyllenhaal

Release details

Rated: R
Release date: Friday June 10 2011
Duration: 100 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Tanya Wexler
Screenwriter: Stephen Dyer, Jonah Lisa Dyer, Howard Gensler
Cast: Hugh Dancy
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Jonathan Pryce
Felicity Jones
Rupert Everett
Ashley Jensen
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