Director: Woody Allen
It is a great pity to see the quality of Woody Allen’s movies diminish over the years. Times when a Woody Allen production was considered an “event” are long over and his power seems to have waned.
The 82-year-old director’s latest output, which is another nostalgic journey, is an uneven mix between Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neil. It seeks to be a melodrama, intense and revealing, but fails to reach any great heights – despite a powerful performance from Kate Winslet who is shrill and, as characters go, an unappealing entity.
The dialogue is too overripe and the situations so trite that it’s unable to reach its goals. The production is an unnaturally dour affair and the only obvious attempt at humour – and a thin one at that- comes in some of Justin Timberlake’s narration.
Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro provides some magnificently gauzy images of a 50’s Coney Island where the drama unfolds.
The unhappily married Ginny (Kate Winslet) is in daily survival mode, working long hours as a waitress while trying to keep her alcoholic husband, dumpy Humpty (Jim Belushi), off the booze. She is carrying on an affair with the much-younger, playwright-wannabe lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake).
Humpty is too oblivious to see what’s going on under his nose but the arrival of his estranged, and attractive 26-year old daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), upsets the order of things. Carolina is on the run and trying to avoid a hit that has been ordered on her by her mob-attached husband because she knows too much. She ends up in Coney Island looking for a place to lie low. While doing so, she and Mickey form an attachment. When Ginny learns about this liaison she explodes. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially one with persistent migraine headaches, a pyromaniac son, and a nasty temper.
“Wonder Wheel” is neither a clever comedy nor a serious introspection about some aspect of the human experience. It doesn’t work on either level and one argument for this is that the reason the characters and situations are so overcooked is because the audience is seeing them through the eyes of Mickey. He is the narrator who fancies himself as an up-an-coming playwright with an affinity for Williams. Part of the problem may also be Timberlake, who’s so clean-cut and square that he feels distanced from the story. This is less a reflection of the performance than a commentary on how the character is written, but Timberlake doesn’t rise above what Allen has put on the page. One member of the small ensemble who does that to a degree is Juno Temple, whose performance as Carolina is appealingly guileless.
Overall, “Wonder Wheel” is somewhat tired, joyless, and uninspired.