The Road to Wellville (2005)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners, Satire  |   Release Date - Oct 28, 1994 (USA)  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , Turkey , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

Although it was met with reactions ranging from bafflement to high-minded condescension upon its unsuccessful theatrical release, this scatological satire of America's early-1900s health obsession deserves a more balanced second look. Adapted by writer/director Alan Parker from the novel by T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Road to Wellville boasts a stellar cast, amusing period detail, and enough surreally grotesque set pieces to power any two David Cronenberg films. The humor may be of the toilet variety, but it serves persuasively and enjoyably to mock the "progressive" ideal of better living through "science" -- in this case the science of enemas, shock treatments, vegetarianism, and thinly disguised snake oil. Parker's satire succeeds or fails on the strength of the individual characters -- caricatures, really, for nothing about The Road to Wellville is subtle. Luckily, the actors are all game and capable, from Anthony Hopkins' buck-toothed reformer to the health-seekers played with abundant and varied charms by everyone from Lara Flynn Boyle and Camryn Manheim to Bridget Fonda and Matthew Broderick. Despite the presence of John Cusack, a subplot involving the breakfast-cereal boom doesn't really go anywhere, but it does help hammer home the film's key point: that middle-class Americans of any historical era would rather throw money at dubious health schemes than make substantive changes in their lifestyles. If modern audiences can't see that, perhaps they're simply too busy obsessing over their low-carb diets, cholesterol levels, home gyms, and personal trainers. The film's poor reputation more likely stems from two pieces of received wisdom: first, that jokes about the digestive and excretory systems are uniformly juvenile, and second, that the human libido took a vacation in the Victorian era and didn't resurface until the swinging 1960s. Parker's film, though uneven and overlong, has great fun disproving both notions.