Monday, December 18, 2017

Wonder Wheel: Movie Review


Empty, meaningless fusion of 1950s Coney Island and family melodrama.
Wonder Wheel is disappointing. An interestingly constructed, 1950s fusion of Coney Island and the melodrama of a play. The main issue is that it’s just so empty. Ginny (Kate Winslet) is having an affair with attractive lifeguard and aspiring playwright, Mickey (Justin Timberlake). She spends her days having sex with him and fretting about how awful her life is. Mickey spends all of his time expounding to the camera about being in love with Ginny or her step-daughter Carolina (Juno Temple). 2017

Directed by: Woody Allen

Screenplay by: Woody Allen

Starring: Juno Temple, Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi and Justin Timberlake

The backdrop for this film is excellent. The chaos of Coney Island with the guns firing from the target games and the neon lights from the roller coaster signs promising an adventure filtering into the apartment of a couple in poverty, living above the amusement park. The famous Wonder Wheel slowly turning in loneliness off in the background. Mickey, and of course his creator Woody Allen, do love symbolism.

The film starts with Temple’s Carolina arriving in Coney Island with only a few clothes in a suitcase and hope for a better life. She’s running away from her husband in the mob, and now she’s crawling back to her father Humpty (Jim Belushi) who disowned her years ago. Presuming the mob won’t look for her here, Humpty takes her in and helps get her like back on track by paying for night school.

Juno Temple in Woody Allen’s WONDER WHEEL. Photo by: Jessica Miglio. © 2017 Gravier Productions, Inc.
The acting is excellent even if the characters don’t do as much as we would like. Belushi really anchors the film, he’s funny without ever trying to be funny. There’s a real heart to Humpty since it’s clear he loves his daughter, and he wants to love his wife, he just loves alcohol more. Meanwhile, he’s oblivious to the love triangle going on beneath his nose. Justin Timberlake was always meant to be a poet-lifeguard from the 1950s, but you can see how hard he’s trying to make the film funny, and it’s just not that funny. Temple was also really well cast as the naively sweet and stupidly innocent girl on the run from the mob but just can’t help falling in love with boys who think she’s beautiful.

Kate Winslet’s Ginny is the most complex character. A mid-life crisis where she’s unable to accept that this is her life: a waitress at a clam restaurant, living at an amusement park, no money for anything, a husband who doesn’t love her, a pyromaniac son, and clinging to an affair with a lifeguard who’s about to dump her for her step-daughter. A true tragi-comedy.

The problem with this tragi-comedy is that it’s not particularly funny, and everything happening to these characters is just so empty and meaningless. Mickey promises us that his story will unfold like a play – and it does. The pivotal scenes all take place in an open-concept apartment, revolving around the struggles of a family: marriage and growing up. The structure fits the themes very well. But I’m wondering if this is only half of a movie, and Allen has misplaced the second half, the one with all the jokes.