Latest Woody Allen film features star-studded cast that includes Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake
Wonder Wheel seems a semi-apt metaphor for Woody Allen’s movies: another seems to come around each year, though they’re hardly revolutionary, let alone wondrous, anymore. His 48th feature in 51 years, set on Coney Island in the early ’50s, is less period piece than dramatic experiment—an O’Neill or Williams play tricked out in vivid film-finery. Despite a torrid performance by Kate Winslet, this pinwheel still sputters.
The frame-narrator is lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake), an aspiring playwright (and Allen-proxy) who warns us of approaching melodrama. Mickey’s having a fling with actress-turned-waitress Ginny (Kate Winslet), whose second husband Humpty (Jim Belushi) finds his daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) on their doorstep—she’s on the run from her gangster husband. Ginny has her hands full with her own child, little Richie, who keeps setting fires.
Timberlake’s character is never quite believable as a ’50s guy, with the script’s sometimes slack, too-talky dialogue not helping—it can sound a tad modern or clunky or both (“I want your input;” “It took a few days of summer sun to decompress”).
That gangster-husband subplot (reuniting Steve Schirripa and Tony Sirico, from The Sopranos, as mobsters) seems a convenient, formulaic way to spirit Carolina in, then dangle an axe overhead. And there are other times when such playing with the sense of a play sucks too much life out of things—it’s not credible. For instance, that the gruff, ex-alcoholic Humpty, who hit Ginny when he drank, never so much as smacks anyone here, not even spanking unruly Richie, as his world spins off its axis.
And yet, all the knowing drama-ness, revolving ’round Winslet’s desperate figure—Ginny lit, centre-stage, with a warm golden-orange glow for a speech under the boardwalk at night. Within this rag-tag family living at such close quarters, the roller-coastering of this Stella Dubois-like woman’s emotions. Ginny retreating into not just denial but performance after a horrible sin of omission is often strangely compelling. Amid the fading romance of this Brooklyn amusement park, there’s a wan lustre to the raging against the dying of the light by these weary, frazzled souls.
Directed by Woody Allen