Theatre & Reviews

Wonder Wheel

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.

Kate Winslet in Wonder Wheel

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.

Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake

Overall, “Wonder Wheel” is somewhat tired, joyless, and uninspired.


About the author

Peter Feldman

Peter has been a journalist and arts critic for almost 50 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa's biggest film and musical events. He was one of only two South African journalists to be invited by Steven Spielberg to the Hook film junket in LA in 1991 where he interviewed the famous director as well as Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. He attended the gala James Bond premiere in London in 1981 and did an iconic interview in a Rolls Royce with Roger Moore who played Bond. He spent a week touring England with Queen prior to their Sun City visit in 1983, interviewed a host of international stars on films sets in Hollywood and London and was the first local journalist to nail an interview with The Rolling Stones prior to their SA visit in 1995.
He is active in the freelance field and his work has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines. He has also worked on TV and radio (ChaiFM 101.9) in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He is a recent recipient of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz award in recognition for his long standing journalistic support for the arts. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, "Video Games," which was released in 1988. He coined the phrase "Local is Lekker" which he used in his columns in The Star Tonight and broadcast in the 70s on David Gresham's popular afternoon show on Springbok Radio.

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