Wetlands isn’t your father’s teen sex comedy.
The teen sex comedy has always been fascinated with fluids, but normally they’re coming out of a man’s body. Take, for instance American Pie. In American Pie, we deal with a guy jacking into a sock, a male who can’t poop in a public restroom, a character who cums into a beer, and another character who drinks that semen-filled beer. Or, that same summer, in the next theater over, Ben Stiller answered the door with semen hanging from his ear, and Cameron Diaz using it as hair gel. Bodily fluids have almost always dealt with coming out of a man’s body.
Wetlands changes that and focuses on the fluids of a woman. And, there’s a lot of it. A LOT. There’s blood from multiple body parts, tampons, shit, piss, pus, hemorrhoids, not to mention pubic hair, semen, and a wide variety of sexuality. Wetlands has as much in common with Trainspotting as it does with American Pie, if not more. The opening of Wetlands shows us Helen scratching her asshole while skateboarding down a street before going down to the filthiest toilet in Berlin to put on her hemorrhoid cream. All this before we go into a cheeky Fight Club-esque molecular examination of a pubic hair left on the seat of that toilet, complete with microscopic worms out of Dune.
Charlotte Roche’s novella Wetlands was an explicit book of feminist origins forcing the public to deal with women and their bodies on a non-idyllic level. Director David Wnendt doesn’t tame the novel in any significant way, merely restructuring the story for cinematic purposes. Wnendt doesn’t shy away from the bodily fluids, and enhances some of the scenes for maximum squeamishness.
Wetlands moves with a sneaky pop sensibility that understands the tropes it is reimagining for the female mentality. Part of the “shock” of Wetlands is in seeing a girl act in a sexually, and bodily, confident manner…even if she still is a teenager and is purely experimenting as teenagers do. Both Roche and Wnendt realize that Helen doesn’t fully understand her body, but still has an urge to explore it.
Roche and Wnendt also use Helen’s body as a battlefield to explore Helen’s social and familial dysfunctions. When Helen goes to the home of a much older man who offers to shave her vagina and asshole, it’s seen as a rebellion against the values that she sees as the source of her broken home. Similar other rebellions are against the values she sees as the source of bodily oppression.
Yet, Helen isn’t a societal rebel. She desires stability. Her big wish is to be in human relationships with a sane family and an unbroken home. She constantly wants her parents to get back together, even as she realizes that they’re the ones who broke her and her brother. She’s all about the push and pull of sexual rebellion and cultural conservatism with the female body at the center of both.
Wetlands embodies all of these politics, but wraps them up in a poppy, Trainspotting/American Pie mash-up. It questions everything but makes it all completely entertaining and compellingly watchable. And, it’s hilarious, even as you’re watching from between the cracks of your fingers.