Friday, June 27, 2014

Wetlands (2014): Women can be vulgar too

Wetlands (2014)
(aka Feuchtgebiete)
dir: David Wnendt

SIFF 2014: Film #24

Wetlands is about to change a game. One of the major complaints is that there aren't enough (read, virtually any) female-driven gross out comedies. These comedies have generally been the realm of men, and delegated to phallo-centric film making. And, when women try to get in on the game, frequently they turn out either polarizing (Dirty Love), too sensitive (Bridesmaids), or too immoral (Bachelorette). Finally, I think the blend is just right for a completely unabashedly vulgar teen gross out sex comedy that's also female driven.

Wetlands, referring to a woman's vagina, centers on Helen, a just over teenage girl who also has hemorrhoids. How do we know she has hemorrhoids? She tells us in the opening scene as she's skateboarding barefoot. Then, she walks, barefoot, into the most disgusting public toilet in all of Germany, that's got 2" of standing water in it, where she proceeds to put hemorrhoid cream in her anus. After which, she spots a dry urine stain on the toilet rim, and we zoom into the public hair going into a microbial representation of the hair as the title credits play.

The most disgusting public toilet in Germany visually has a direct recollection of Trainspotting's most disgusting toilet, intentionally. The surreality of Trainspotting is a heavy influence in this film about a teenager trying to conquer her ass problems via surgery while also trying to pick up her hot male nurse and get her parents back together. Wetlands isn't linear, straight-forward, or polite, frequently covered in bodily fluids of all kinds, both male and female. Nothing is taboo in this call for Helen to fully embrace her body and her sexuality.

Wetlands sees the line it shouldn't cross, and gleefully runs past it at rocket speed and ends up about 20 miles away from it. Right from the start, it doesn't want to be polite, and it's punk girl aesthetic informs you that this isn't your "I'm going to be a polite, behaved woman" type comedy. Helen doesn't care about societal norms, and instead goes after what she wants. Indeed, the male nurse she unabashedly seduces is treated as a trophy that is torn between Helen and his kinda-ex-girlefriend Valery, a student doctor in the same hospital. Wetlands is a girl power film in the full sense of embracing a previously male-dominated genre.

While Wetlands is hilarious and crude, like the best gross out films, it actually has a heart to make you care about the story behind all the gross out gags. Not only does it show you a finger going into a butt, it makes you care about the person who possesses that butt. Helen comes off as a crude, slightly confused teenager who needs to figure things out, and needs somebody to love. Everything she says is meant to provoke a reaction in all of her audiences, on screen and off. Wnendt makes sure that we don't think that Helen is a completely immoral degenerate, but merely a girl who needs to provoke her way through to maturity.

I've been waiting for Wetlands for ages. I have been wanting a female-driven gross out that's hilarious, takes-no-prisoners, and doesn't care about being polite about anything. Helen never apologizes for being who she is, and neither does the film. Which is exactly the type of entitlement that is endearing in male gross out comedies. Helen is a perfect gross out character, and Wetlands is an exemplary insertion in this genre.

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