It's hard to discern what cinematic possibilities director Alan Parker imagined he saw in T. Coraghessan Boyle's comic novel about American health faddists at the turn of the century. Even if Parker believed that the material must automatically bear satirical fruit in the context of our
own health-crazed era, THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE emerges as a meretricious, big-budget failure on a par with celebrated all-star catastrophes like CANDY, 1941, and EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES.
While his more famous sibling grows rich selling cereal, dietary fanatic Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins) reigns supreme over The San, his made-to-order spa in Battle Creek, Michigan. Eleanor Lightbody (Bridget Fonda), who's been estranged from husband Will (Matthew Broderick) since the
death of their only child, convinces her wary spouse that a second honeymoon at Kellogg's retreat will lead to renewed vigor and rapprochement. While Eleanor flings herself whole-heartedly into the resorts regimen, sickly Will grouses about the high colonics, fantasizes about Nurse Graves (Traci
Lind), and drifts into an affair with the neurasthenic Ida Muntz (Lara Flynn Boyle), who soon expires. Elsewhere in the spa, Kellogg's regimen is having deadly consequences: a Russian man is electrocuted by a massage contraption; a spa manager collapses and dies on the grounds. Dr. Kellogg
preaches piously to the converted, but his vision of a healthy America is given the lie by his adopted son George (Dana Carvey), a snaggle-toothed black sheep who extorts money from his dad and lends his support to a get-rich-quick scheme fronted by Mr. Bender (Michael Lerner). Having already
bilked fledgling cereal inventor Charles Ossining (John Cusack) out of seed money provided by Ossining's aunt, Bender talks George and Ossining into a cereal manufacturing scheme involving a claptrap factory and stolen product they palm off as their own. Meanwhile, the adulterous Will snoops on
Eleanor and confronts her during an outdoor "womb massage therapy" session conducted by Dr. Spitzvogel (Norbert Weisser) and approved by Kellogg's staunchest critic, Dr. Lionel Badger (Colm Meaney). Bender skips town and abandons Ossining to face fraud charges, while George sets fire to the San.
Somehow, Dr. Kellogg reconciles with his unlovable scion and the Lightbodys manage to save their marriage without benefit of daily enemas. A coda reveals that Ossining later redeemed himself in the business world and cleared his name.
In spoofing the health-consciousness of an earlier era, Parker may have intended to critique the present-day cult of the body, but he delivers little more than a lumpen epic whose wellspring is grotesque body-function humor. The direction is literal-minded and thumpingly obvious; razzle-dazzle
cinematography and art direction are of little help. As portrayed by the chronically arch Ms. Fonda, Eleanor never emerges as the sweetly addled love object she's meant to be; she seems like a monstrous busybody. This poorly constructed film tackles easy targets (e.g., by trashing obese extras for
cheap guffaws) and peddles a superficially cynical view of humanity. THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE may nevertheless have a beneficial effect on weight-conscious viewers: prolonged exposure to its lip-smacking innuendo and bowel movement jokes can easily put one off one's food. (Violence, extremeprofanity, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: It's hard to discern what cinematic possibilities director Alan Parker imagined he saw in T. Coraghessan Boyle's comic novel about American health faddists at the turn of the century. Even if Parker believed that the material must automatically bear satiri… (more)