The Road to Wellville stars Anthony Hopkins as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, Matthew Broderick as William Lightbody a patient at the sanatorium, Bridget Fonda as his wife Eleanor Lightbody, John Cusack as Charles Ossinning a budding health food entrepreneur, Dana Carvey as George Kellogg, Dr Kellogg's estranged adopted son and Colm Meaney as Dr. Lionel Badger.
The sanitarium attracts a number of well to do patients including William and Eleanor Lightbody (Matthew Broderick and Bridget Fonda) who are both suffering from ill health following the premature death of their child. On their way to Battle Creek they meet the enterprising Charles Ossining (John Cusack) who is hoping to make his fortune by exploiting the craze for health food cereals. He finds a partner in the devious Goodloe Bender (Michael Lerner) and having enlisted the services of George Kellogg (Dana Carvey), Kellogg's estranged adopted son they attempt to produce Kellogg's Perfo Flakes.
In the sanitarium Will is separated from his wife and starts harbouring lustful thoughts of Nurse Graves (Traci Lind) and Ida Muntz (Lara Flynn Boyle). Meanwhile Eleanor befriends Virginia Cranehill (Camryn Manheim) who has a less uptight attitude to sexual pleasure than her, influenced by the works of Dr. Lionel Badger (Colm Meaney).
Will finally succumbs to Ida Muntz' charms and has sex with her. Later he discovers that Ida has died during treatment. Another death causes Will to exclaim that everyone's dying.
Following the tragic death of a patient in the sinusoidal bath, Will has a breakdown, flees the sanitarium and gets drunk and eats meat. At the restaurant he meets Ossining and agrees to invest $1000 in his health food business. Will returns drunk to the sanitarium where he is reprimanded by Dr. Kellogg and abandoned by a distraught Eleanor.
Eleanor then visits Dr. Spitzvogel, a masseur, and rediscovers her sexuality.
Ossining's business however is a disaster with no edible products and they resort to stealing Kellogg's cornflakes and repackaging them in their own boxes. He then meets his aunt, an investor, at an open day at Kellogg's sanitarium where he is exposed as a fraud and arrested. At the open day Nurse Graves attempts to seduce Will; however, the guilt stricken Will spurns her advances and goes to find Eleanor. She is with Dr. Spitzvogel, Dr. Badger and Virginia Cranehill taking part in an orgy. Will, incensed, thrashes Dr. Spitzvogel with a branch and takes Eleanor away, where they reunite.
George Kellogg pays a final visit to his father and subsequently burns the sanitarium down. In the chaos, Ossining makes good his escape.
It should be noted that in the film Kellogg seems to reconcile with with George in the mudbath at the aftermath of the fire. In the book, Kellogg actually kills George by drowning him in the mud.
In the final coda, the Lightbody's are happily married with four daughters. Will receives a cheque for $1000 from Ossining who has become a Cola drinks tycoon. Dr. Kellogg dies in his 70's of a heart attack while diving.
The film was poorly received at the time with a good deal of criticism of the scatological nature of the film with Hopkin's portrayal of Kellogg being singled out in particular for criticism. The film has a 44% rating on Rottentomatoes.com. Not all the reviews were negative, writing in Bright Lights Film Journal, Tanfer Emin-Tunc said it is a sophisticated blend of humor and documented historical material that seeks to question the various forms that race and class have assumed in twentieth-century American society.
The film flopped at the box office, only grossing $6.5 million dollars in the USA, partly hindered by the R rating it received.