Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On The Road to Wellville

Virginia (Camryn Manheim): The fresh air, the exercise and the pleasure of a leather saddle between one's thighs.

Eleanor (Bridget Fonda): Why, Virginia, what do you mean?

Virginia: Bicycle smile, I believe they call it.

"The Road to Wellville," which premiered 20 years ago today, reminded everyone that every generation must deal with issues of bowel regularity. It is a normal biological function that no one seems to have fully mastered.

It was also a reminder that, while every generation may think it discovered sex, that is also a normal biological function that, in all of human history, no one seems to have fully mastered.

Consequently, there are always people whose mission in life it is to help those who struggle with such normal biological functions.

Such a person was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who ran a sanatorium in Battle Creek, Mich., preaching the benefits of diet, nutrition, exercise and enemas. He also advocated sexual abstinence.

If Battle Creek sounds familiar, it should. It has been the world headquarters of the Kellogg Company (founded by Dr. Kellogg's brother) for more than a century. Dr. Kellogg and his brother had a falling out over cereal recipes.

While it was based in fact, it is important to remember that "The Road to Wellville" was a fictional account of both Kellogg and his facility.

Dr. Kellogg was portrayed in "The Road to Wellville" by one of my favorite contemporary actors, Anthony Hopkins. He gave his usual stellar performance — but it just wasn't my favorite Hopkins role.

The character was a little too over the top for me, I guess. Maybe that's how Kellogg really was. Maybe it wasn't merely an artistic decision that Hopkins made.

If it wasn't an exaggeration, though, I have a strong feeling that Dr. Kellogg and I wouldn't have agreed on much.

Bridget Fonda and Matthew Broderick played a young married couple (with the delicious surname Lightbody) who came to Kellogg's sanatorium for help. They had been struggling with health issues since the death of their child.

The movie followed them — and several others like them — in their journey to pure thoughts and clean living.

All Broderick really needed was some intimacy with his wife, and he knew it, but Kellogg's facility separated husbands and wives. He had a hard time coping with that. His wife, meanwhile, was becoming a devoted disciple of Kellogg's teachings, especially his stance against killing animals for food.

Broderick was forced to give his lustful attention to more accessible targets — a nurse (Traci Lind) and a fellow patient (Lara Flynn Boyle) — both of whom he imagined minus their layers of 19th–century clothes.

He did more than imagine with Boyle. That was against Kellogg's policy. In addition to being a vegetarian, Kellogg was opposed to sex other than for procreational purposes, and he forbade masturbation.

Dr. Kellogg obviously had some unorthodox ideas about good health — but, just as obviously, there must have been something to them if he followed his own advice. He lived to be nearly 92.

Of course, he may just have been a quack who got lucky and lived a longer life than most in spite of himself.

I didn't particularly care for "The Road to Wellville." It wasn't the people who were in it. As I say, I like Hopkins. I like all of the Fondas. I like Broderick. I haven't seen much of Lind or Boyle, but they were pleasant enough.

I guess it was the nature of the humor. Scatalogical humor is great when you're 7, but no 7–year–olds were allowed to see this movie without an adult when it ran at the theaters.

And that may go a long way toward explaining the indifferent response the movie received at the box office. It cost $25 million to make. It made $6.5 million in the theaters.