Wonder Wheel

Studio: Amazon Studios
Directed by Woody Allen

Nov 30, 2017 Web Exclusive
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No one really knows what to make of Woody Allen these days. His film-a-year pace is impressive by any standard, but the films rarely meet the standards he’s set for himself, as he’s been mired a streak of mediocrity that many argue dates back to the mid-90s. Then comes a Match Point or Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine, work so universally regarded that throwing in the towel seems a bit premature.

Wonder Wheel is not one of those efforts.

The newest in Allen’s ouvre takes us to post-war Coney Island where Ginny (Kate Winslet) is an unhappy waitress at a clam shack. Outside of work, she’s the unhappy wife of Humpty (John Belushi) and the unhappy mother of a boy who likes to start fires. Mostly she’s unhappy for never having made it as an actress. Therefore, when she meets Mickey (Justin Timberlake) -- a handsome lifeguard studying to become a playwright -- they begin an affair that fuels this unrequired creative spark. This, unfortunately, coincides with the return of Humpty’s daughter (Juno Temple). Years earlier, she ran away from home to marry some mobster, and now, having escaped the marriage without permission, her return puts the family in danger. But the more immediate danger, at least to Ginny, is her youth and beauty, which catches the eye of Mickey.

Even Woody Allen’s forgotten films explore some incongruity in human psychology. Here, he seems to be pitting human desire fueled by rationality versus desire fueled by actual human feeling. Rationally, this film doesn’t work--the script is forced, unfocused, and can’t walk the tonal tightrope that’s even present in more recent works. In terms of feeling, it’s not much better. Kate Winslet and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro offer inspiring work that’s worth more than the material they’re forced to enliven, but neither can apologize for the textual issues that are exacerbated by bizarre casting decisions. Belushi has the look, but feels out of his element sparring with Winslet, which is further complicated by his character’s volatility. Justin Timberlake likewise has the look but he’s a bit too confident given the dilemma his character faces. He also doesn’t see to know the point of soliloquy.

Before the screening, a critic mentioned late Woody Allen tends to be a series of hits or misses. Thinking about it like that, this one is more of a foul tip.

Author rating: 4/10

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