Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: Wetlands

Image courtesy of Strand Releasing.
Here's a film that I can respect, but at the same time believe doesn't quite work. Based on the controversial and popular novel by Charlotte Roche, "Wetlands" is a gleefully crass picture that might have made John Waters proud in his heyday.

And yet the picture is not offensive - nor does it aim to be. The film's lead character - Helen (a very committed Carla Juri) - is not the type to shy away from her sexuality and has no qualms about being just as crude as your average male. This is one of the elements that has drawn some praise for the film. Typically, movies celebrate men behaving badly, but frown upon women doing the same, so "Wetlands," at times, feels like something radically new.

And yet, for a liberated film, "Wetlands" feels a bit shackled by its increasing necessity to outdo itself. The film opens with Helen proudly discussing her lack of hygiene and giving us a pretty extreme example as she enters barefoot into a toilet that would make the characters from "Trainspotting" blush and rubs her bottom and other parts all over the toilet lid, which is covered with all manner of stains and one very prominent pubic hair.

In voice over, Helen tells us of her long-time battle against hemorrhoids and, early in the film, she accidentally shaves too close to one of them, necessitating several days' stay at a hospital, where she befriends a male nurse, whom she regales with her bawdy tales and life's history.

One of the problems with David Wnendt's film is that it too often attempts to psychoanalyze Helen's free spirited sexuality and shock tactics and explains her behavior away through flashbacks of her negligent parents - a careless father and a mother who became obsessed with religion after attempting suicide. Helen is a unique character, so attempting to fit her into a psychological profile such as this is, in my opinion, a mistake.

Another problem with "Wetlands" is that its onslaught of provocations - which include a group of men adding, um, flavor to a pizza and a tampon swap - begin to feel calculated and the picture's continuous flights of fancy make it seem unfocused. Helen's story will be going in one direction and then she'll suddenly stop and make several digressions, none of which add much to her story and most of which are merely additional scenes involving fecal matter or bodily functions. Although a scene in which she and a pal are high on some sort of drug is pretty effective.

So, while I can appreciate that the film takes an approach toward female sexuality that is rarely seen, I just wish the material could have made for a better movie. As it stands, "Wetlands" is fairly provocative, but it frequently feels as if it is trying too hard to be so.

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