Movies

Wetlands and The Longest Week

A wild German import, and a limp Woody Allen tribute Jason Bateman can't quite save.

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Strand Releasing

Wetlands is that rare thing, a movie truly unlike any other. It's based on a 2008 novel by Anglo-German author Charlotte Roche – an uncompromising bestseller and international scandal magnet that provoked both feminist acclaim and wider-spread cries of horrified disgust. It seemed to be a book that could never be adapted for the screen; but now German director David Wnendt has managed – I think you'd have to say fearlessly – to do it, and without softening the outrageous material in any way. The movie is filled with scenes of a radically graphic nature, some of which can knock you back in your seat, possibly in, well, horrified disgust. 

The protagonist is an eccentric young woman named Helen Memel (Swiss actress Carla Juri, an instant star). Helen is opposed to all culturally imposed standards of feminine hygiene, and to the more general social reluctance to discuss natural bodily functions (thus the "wetlands" of the title). As a little girl, she rebelled against her mother's insistence on strict vaginal cleanliness, believing that the organ's unmediated aroma is a natural musk to which men are attracted. After a body-shaving mishap lands her in the hospital for emergency surgery, she begins to relate the rest of her startling tale.

Helen is an indefatigable sexual enthusiast, among other things. We see her experimenting with a series of vegetable dildos ("Carrots – bingo!"), ingesting various emissions, and swapping tampons with her friend Corinna (Marlen Kruse). There are a couple of cunnilingual interludes, a wild drug binge, and a scene with several naked guys crowded around a pizza that you're likely never, ever to forget.

But there's a sweeter underlying story, too. Helen longs to reunite her divorced parents, and hopes to do so by setting up visits that will bring them to see her at the hospital at the same time. This proves hard to arrange, and when she's informed that her recovery is complete and the time has come to return home, she decides to prolong her stay by spectacularly awful means.

Who would want to see a movie like this? Not everybody, obviously. But the picture is an original vision, and surprising in several unexpected ways. It has a sunny look and a light, jaunty spirit, and the soundtrack is filled with bubbly pop tunes (including Thee Headcoatees' punk-junk classic, "Come Into My Mouth"). Best of all, it has Carla Juri, whose sweet, flirty face suggests a young Jessica Lange, and whose commitment to her possibly unbalanced character, and willingness to do some fairly astonishing things, are marvels to behold. She'll be back in less bizarre pictures, and almost certainly soon. 

The Longest Week

Gravitas Ventures

The Longest Week is a comedy so busy bowing in the direction of Woody Allen and Wes Anderson that it never gets around to telling much of a story. It's set in the Allen version of Manhattan – a place populated entirely by well-to-do white people – and offers numerous salutes to Anderson's obsessively symmetrical shot compositions. We get it. But apart from a cast of considerable charm, and some silky cinematography, that's about all we get.

The central character, Conrad Valmont, played by Jason Bateman, is a hard man to care about. Nearing 40, Conrad has never had to work a day in his life. His parents, seriously loaded but generally absent, own the Hotel Valmont on ritzy Central Park West, where their son is permanently installed in an uber- deluxe suite. His credit-card accounts are endlessly replenished, and he has his own chauffeur. But then his parents decide to divorce, and for reasons not entirely clear, the family money spigot is turned off and Conrad is immediately evicted from the hotel. Suddenly, he is homeless.

On what could be his first-ever subway ride, he makes eye contact with a beautiful high-fashion model named Beatrice (Olivia Wilde), who clearly belongs in the back of a limo but is nevertheless slumming it right across the aisle from him. Before getting off at her stop, she hands Conrad a slip of paper with her phone number on it. Non-New Yorkers should be aware that this sort of thing happens all the time.

In need of digs, Conrad pays a visit to his friend Dylan (Billy Crudup), a successful artist who lives in a spacious downtown loft. Conrad tells Dylan that the family hotel is being remodeled and that he needs a temporary place to stay. Dylan agrees to take him in. He also takes him along on a casual date that night with a woman he has his eye on – Beatrice, of course. She and Conrad are instantly drawn to each other, and in a familiar Manhattan-y montage we soon see them nuzzling in the park, whimsically twirling along a Hudson promenade, all that sort of thing. Dylan feels betrayed, and kicks Conrad out of the loft. Conrad feeds the hotel-remodeling story to Beatrice, and she allows him to move in with her.

The movie is a first feature by director and cowriter Peter Glanz, and his continual invocation of the spirit of Woody Allen summons unflattering comparisons. There's a scene in which a pretentious boob is put down that's straight out of Annie Hall, and there's a psychoanalyst played by Tony Roberts, who featured in that and several other of Allen's greatest films. But Allen would surely have looked at this bare-bones story as a first draft, and added sharper dialogue and wittier plot complications. The only suspense here is very mild: when will Conrad come clean with Beatrice about his impoverished circumstances? We know he must, and then he does, and then there's a shamelessly lazy narrative turnaround followed by an unusually leaden ending.

Olivia Wilde isn't called upon to do much more than be beautiful here, something at which she effortlessly succeeds. But Bateman and Crudup underplay their parts with great skill, and set up some wonderfully droll comic rhythms in their scenes together. They're worth seeing, especially if you don't have to leave home to do so – the movie is already available on VOD.