Wonder Wheel
dir-scr Woody Allen
prd Erika Aronson, Letty Aronson, Edward Walson
with Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi, Max Casella, Jack Gore, Maddie Corman, Tony Sirico, Steve Schirripa, David Krumholtz, Geneva Carr, Tommy Nohilly
release US 1.Dec.17, UK 9.Mar.18
17/US Amazon 1h41
Wonder Wheel
A way out: Winslet and Timberlake

temple belushi corman
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Wonder Wheel One of Woody Allen's more ambitious movies, this is a story about worn-down people for whom coping with pressure never gets any easier. With heavy theatricality, the film echoes American playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill in the way it depicts characters whose reality never quite matches their aspirations. It's a broad and uneven, but is packed with moments of raw insight and some terrific performances.

It's 1950s Coney Island, and clamhouse waitress Ginny (Winslet) lives right in the middle of the noisy funfair with her carrousel-operator husband Humpty (Belushi) and her pyromaniac pre-teen son (Gore). Then Humpty's daughter Carolina (Temple) arrives, in hiding from the goons (Sirico and Schirripa) sent by her mobster husband. With pounding headaches, Ginny is looking for a way out, and thinks she's found it in dreamy lifeguard Mickey (Timberlake), an aspiring writer who says he loves her. Then he catches sight of Carolina, and now he's not so sure.

The story is narrated by Mickey, perhaps because he's the least interesting person around. Timberlake gives him some charm, but he's a vacuous, passive guy who wants to be an artist but probably isn't one. Much more gripping are the two women played with staggering transparency by Winslet and Temple. Both are deeply flawed, fully aware that they are to blame for their own worst mistakes, and desperate to escape the fate they know they deserve. Both actresses are so good that the rest of the film kind of fades into a background blur.

But what a background! Legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro makes every moment look simply gorgeous, playing with light and colour to shift the settings and characters between their lurid superficial fakery and their more gritty grey realism. So even when the script feels a little thin, it looks drop-dead beautiful. This helps paper over the two rather thin male characters, underplayed by Timberlake and stagily hammed up by Belushi.

Even with awkward films like this one, Allen packs every scene with remarkable observations. There are scenes that are achingly sweet and chill-inducingly nasty, plus plenty of wry humour and pitch black irony. But the overall emotion here is a sense of aching loss, as Ginny struggles with the fact that she is growing into middle age without achieving her dream to become an actress. It's sharp and moving, and never overstated in Allen's bookish script. And since the point is this grim, there's a haunting undercurrent that's difficult to shake.

cert 12 themes, language, sexuality 21.Dec.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall