2014 was a weird year for the romcom. It’s not often that a modern romcom earns the kind of critical praise that lands it on Best of the Year lists or empathetically addresses a subject as sensitive as abortion, but last year’s Obvious Child accomplished both. The genre also found its first ZAZ-style spoof in They Came Together and some common ground with supernatural horror in The One I Love. These were all exciting developments in a genre long thought stagnant, but by far the strangest new territory under the romcom umbrella was explored by the German film Wetlands.
Most likely the cutest movie about an anal fissure you’ll ever see, Wetlands is by and large an exercise in depravity. It’s as if de Sade or Bataille had written a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan comedy. If there’s a particular bodily fluid, sexual act, or unsanitary pizza topping that you absolutely cannot handle this may not be the movie for you. However, those who can endure a heap of gross-out humor are well rewarded for their fortitude. Like its 18 year old protagonist Helen (expertly played by Carla Juri) the film’s hard, shock value exterior is really a front for a big old softie lurking under the surface. For all of Helen’s filthy sex pranks and hygiene “experiments”, she’s really just an overgrown child who desperately wants her parents to get back together and for her hunky crush to notice her advances. There’s also some real pain behind her troubled relationships with her mother, her brother & her best friend, as well some surreally lyrical tangents involving dirty panties, microscopic closeups of bacteria, drug binges, and newly sprouted avocado trees. The film may be memorable for the depths of its depravity, but more importantly it manages a remarkable balance that allows it to stick to the romcom format while navigating those depths.
After its minuscule domestic release last year, I’m stoked that Wetlands is finally accessible for easy consumption. As far as I know the only time it played locally was at Chalmette Movies during last year’s New Orleans Film Festival. The film was difficult to watch in more ways than one and as it was my favorite comedy of 2014 (and in my top 5 movies overall) I’ve been sitting on my hands waiting for an opportunity to spread its name. If you’re worried that Wetlands is too grotesque for your taste, this (absurdly NSFW) trailer is a good litmus test. Otherwise, check it out on Netflix or home video ASAP. It’s somehow just as cute as it is gross. It’s very, very gross.