Mark Reviews Movies

Wonder Wheel


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi, David Krumholtz, Tony Sirico, Stephen R. Schirripa

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 12/1/17 (limited); 12/8/17 (wider); 12/15/17 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 30, 2017

Ignoring the fact that Woody Allen's latest movie seems to be a provocation regarding certain parts of the filmmaker's personal life, Wonder Wheel is nearly disastrous. It's not an aggressively bad movie, because such things take effort. Allen is clearly coasting here, with a screenplay that relies on obvious wordplay for its alleged cleverness, characters who repeatedly say exactly how they're feeling at any given moment, and a directorial style that brings to mind the stage and camera blocking of a play captured with a single camera.

We should have expected it by now. Allen himself has started to seem increasingly unconvinced by his own work as of late. There has always been an air of amused nihilism in even his most effective films, but his latest bunch have been so poorly plotted, so insincerely characterized, and so philosophically hollow that the nihilism has taken control. There's little amusement to be had in an Allen movie as of late, and there's none of it in this one, which tells the tale of a love triangle on Coney Island in the 1950s.

Just with the basic setup, we already have a few of the Allen standards: New York, doomed romance, and a hefty feeling of nostalgia. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the characters fall in line with the filmmaker's usual lineup, either. There's a drunk, angry husband. There's a wife who once suffered a nervous breakdown and seems ready to suffer another one at any moment. There's a pretty, young woman who doesn't know what she wants but who could get whatever or whomever she wants, if only she could see her own virtues.

There's a narrator, too, and surely you can believe that he's an aspiring writer. Since the writer/director stopped putting himself in his own movies, there has been some fun in spotting the Allen stand-ins. Here, we have a pretty obvious one: a playwright, who confesses at the start to love melodrama. The character would be about the same age that Allen was in the era of the movie's setting, too.

At this point, it should be noted that Mickey, the playwright and narrator and crucial point in the story's love triangle, is played by Justin Timberlake. Even though one can kind of hear the stumbling words in between the lines, the actor doesn't do the usual bits of physical meekness or verbal stammering of an Allen-character. How could he, though? Timberlake is about as far removed from Allen as two people can get. In casting the actor, Allen either is trying to distance himself from the character through the casting or has become momentarily delusional in his nostalgic inclinations.

Mickey has been having an affair with Ginny (Kate Winslet), a waitress at a seafood restaurant. She's married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), who operates the carousel on the boardwalk. They had to move into a cramped apartment behind the Ferris wheel, after Humpty had a drunken outburst at their old place in New Jersey.

The plot kicks in with the return of Humpty's daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), who's on the run from the mob after squealing on her gangster husband's criminal activities. Since there's bad blood between father and daughter, it's the last place, Carolina and Humpty figure, that the mob would look.

There are a lot of dragged-out arguments, shot in lengthy and ambling one-takes, with most of them revolving around the notion that Ginny, an actress whose glory days have long since faded, is an unstable woman. She loves Mickey with the passion and unlikely expectations of a teenager, and Carolina's sudden interest in Mickey turns Ginny into a scowling, jealousy-fueled wreck.

There's little avoiding how these character dynamics fit into Allen's well-publicized personal life, and it's extremely discomforting at times—particularly in how Ginny is reduced to a green-eyed monster of pettiness and anger. There's nothing wrong with Mickey, naturally, who goes out of his way to break the fourth wall in order to tell us the following: how bad he feels about being attracted to Carolina, how sorry he feels for Ginny, and how matters of the heart can't be helped. If we continue the connection between the movie and Allen's own life, the former becomes an apologia for the latter, with a public scolding of one party thrown in out of spite.

That's bad enough, but removed from all of that, the movie itself is a slog of repetitious melodrama, unconvincing performances (One suspects Allen went with the first take of each long shot), and over-the-top, neon-based mood lighting (provided by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro). In just about every respect, Wonder Wheel is an ugly movie.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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