Title: Wonder Wheel
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Jay Sherman: So then I said to Woody Allen,"Well, Camus can do, but Sartre is smartre."
Brief Plot Synopsis: Most people are unhappy. Those who aren't are doomed.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One-and-a-half Charlie McGee's out of five.
Tagline: There isn’t one. Coming up with one sentence to sell this descent into the abyss was probably a lot to ask.
Better Tagline: “A-listers inexplicably continue to make movies for a very sketchy dude.”
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Young Carolina (Juno Temple) has come to Coney Island looking for her estranged dad. Instead, she finds his new wife Ginny (Kate Winslet), who informs Carolina her father "Humpty" (Jim Belushi) won’t be too happy to see her, especially when he finds out she’s running from the gangster ex-husband he didn't approve of in the first place. Meanwhile, Ginny has been questioning her own decision making, leading to an ill-advised tryst with lifeguard/drama student Mickey (Justin Timberlake).
"Critical" Analysis: Woody Allen has released a new film almost every year since 1975. Varying widely in tone and theme (if not location; many are set in NYC), and while his movies are generally well-received, his latter era works have been more erratic (2013’s Blue Jasmine and 2011’s Midnight in Paris being post-2000 highlights). If Wonder Wheel, Allen’s latest, is any indication, the downward trend is not only continuing, but worsening.
Why the decline? Allen is 82, and managing the kind of output he has for as long as he has always threatens to make one repetitive. What Wonder Wheel really wants is to capture the energy of Blue Jasmine, but aside from the caliber of lead performance, it fails miserably. Wonder Wheel feels like a stage production, and while it’s gorgeously shot by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the dialogue is stilted and the presentation is static and obvious, which only helps highlight the movie’s non-structural flaws.
Allen mercifully refrained from casting himself, being content to use Timberlake as his fantasy avatar, but the movie is still filled with unpleasant characters. Mickey is happy to string Ginny along, obliviously supporting the delusion that her life is greater than the sum of its parts. That is, until he starts having feelings for Carolina. Humpty, meanwhile, alternates between two states: codependent and abusive (Belushi’s mush-mouthed performance ironically comes across as one of the most authentic), clumsily attempting to please Ginny while threatening her pyromaniac son..
Yes, for some reason, Ginny’s son Richie likes to burn things. That we’re ultimately left realizing nothing will be done to help him is perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of what is already a bleak as hell movie.
Ginny also gets migraines, which makes Coney Island a less than ideal workplace, especially living upstairs from the target shooting range. However, “migraine” is more accurately Ginny’s excuse from removing others from her presence. She rebuffs any affection from Humpty and reacts with hysteria when Carolina expresses interests in Mickey. That Winslet makes her such an insufferable character so compelling is testament to what a great actress she is.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Carolina, meanwhile, bears the burden of everyone else’s deficiencies, and Temple is capably both the youngest and most mature person in every room. She’s unwanted by her father, resented by Ginny (doubly so when she becomes a rival for her affections), and pursued by Mickey, the lothario lifeguard, who — when he's not breaking the fourth wall — sees in her someone whose breadth of experience outstrips his own. She never really stands a chance (even without the Mafia), for Ginny and Mickey are terrible, pretentious people, while Humpty is merely terrible.
And even if you ignore the sexual abuse allegations against Allen (a combination of aggressive PR and legal threats have so far spared him Harvey Weinstein's fate), the depiction of women in his films has always been problematic, with the female characters of most recent Allen movie are – at best – portrayed as romantic rivals (Café Society, Whatever Works). unhinged (Blue Jasmine), or both. The characterization of Ginny is so venomous and unsympathetic you almost wonder (no pun intended) why Winslet agreed.
Until you find out Winslet thinks both Allen and Roman Polanski are "incredible directors," so never mind.
Wonder Wheel is an unpleasant movie about unpleasant people, and only Kate Winslet’s standout performance and Vittorio Storaro’s camera work keep it from being wholly unwatchable. If Woody Allen's behavior won't finally end his career, maybe the declining quality of his movies will.