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The Road To Wellville

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Road To Wellville

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Broderick
Director: Alan Parker
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: October 1994
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Bridget Fonda, John Cusack, Dana Carvey, John Neville, Camryn Manheim, Michael Lerner, Colm Meaney, Lara Flynn Boyle

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

One of the things that distinguish modern industrial societies from those in the past is the decline of the traditional religion. This decline manifests itself in the decreased role of religion as a cohesive factor of society, as well as the disappearance of religion as an important factor in lives of its individual members. That doesn't mean that the religion as a concept disappeared from the society entirely. It simply took new forms, and some of those forms seem to reflect materialistic worldview and values that are so dominant in today's world. The best example could be found in the cults that try to give solution to individual's problems by promoting physical health instead of spiritual values. Those cults usually offer simple formulas for keeping people healthy. Those formulas often force people to base their entire lifestyle around them and make sacrifices not unlike those of hermits and similar religious devotees. Because of that, health cults could have provided a fertile ground for sociological comments and satire, but Hollywood was very reluctant to enter this area. One of those rare exceptions is THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE, 1994 period comedy written and directed by Alan Parker.

The plot of the film, based on the novel by T. Corghessan Boyle, combines fiction with history in order to tell the tale about the great-granddaddy of all modern-day health cults. In the beginning of 20th Century Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (played by Anthony Hopkins), famous physician, nutritionist and the inventor of cornflake, has established the sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Rich patients go there to test Kellogg's recipes for a healthy life, but at least one of them, William Lightbody (played by Matthew Broderick) would see that healthy life isn't necessarily a pleasant one. Kellogg subjects his patients to various torture-like exercise and enemas five times a day and demands total abstinence from meat, tobacco, alcohol and sex. Lightbody is accompanied by his young wife Eleanor (played by Bridget Fonda) and both of them, unable to abstain from sex, indulge in adultery. In the meantime, Kellogg's adopted son George (played by Dana Carvey) conspires with his father's competition in order to steal the formula for cornflakes.

Thing that separates THE ROAD TO WELVILLE from most of 1990s Hollywood comedies is its use of toilet humour. Hardly any film, even the most infamous gross-out comedies of our day, features such amount of excrement like this one; yet the humour derived from such display of various bodily fluids is entirely within the context of the film and its use is quite justified. Unfortunately, the amount and graphic nature of such scenes might not be suitable for the viewers with weaker stomachs; yet those who are able to deal with initial shock would be awarded with few hilarious scenes. The real problem with THE ROAD WITH WELLVILLE is more of a form than of content. The plot is too loose and episodic and the movie is overlong.

On the other hand, great length is also an opportunity for casting wide variety of talented actors. Anthony Hopkins leads the pack and shows that he could deal with comedic as well as dramatic roles. He is almost unrecognisable with the rabbit-like face of Dr. Kellogg and he does everything in his power to make this character as cartoonish as possible. Hopkins is so delightfully over-the-top in his efforts that the viewers might forget that the same actor won "Oscar" few years earlier by playing another physician (those who don't might find Dr. Kellogg to be much scarier, in some way). There are plenty of other actors - British and Americans - and few are as effective as Hopkins, including rather bland Matthew Broderick who plays movie's nominal protagonist. Other performances would be stand out for entirely different reasons, including Lara Flynn Boyle whose character is turning green. Parker's direction, while not sparing viewers from the disturbing banality of human metabolism, tries to compensate potential unpleasantness by creating vivid period atmosphere. In that he was aided by Rachel Portman, composer specialised for period dramas.

At times disturbing, at times overlong, and at times unfunny, THE ROAD TO WELVILLE might not be for everyone, yet for those who can handle uncompromising satire, this film might be experience quite different from its seemingly unpleasant content.

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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