Woody Allen going in circles: ‘Wonder Wheel’ review

Wonder Wheel

Still waiting on the next Midnight in Paris.

Like it or not, Woody Allen comes out with a new movie once every year. They can’t always be Midnight in Paris, Annie Hall, Manhattan or even Café Society (which I think I liked more than most people). Sometimes, instead, you get an Irrational Man, To Rome with Love or now, Wonder Wheel.

Directed and written by Allen, Wonder Wheel takes place in New York (as most of his movies do) during the 1950s. More specifically, were set in Coney Island (hence the name of the movie and giant Ferris wheel in the poster) in the post-WWII era.

This setting is where we find Ginny (Kate Winslet), a miserable waitress down at the clam shack who had to give up her dreams of becoming an actress. Ginny used to be happy — she was once married to a wonderfully charming man and together they had a kid, Richie (Jack Gore). However, after sadly divorcing her husband, her luck has taken a turn for the worse.

Wonder Wheel
credit: Youtube

It’s in this low period when she meets Humpty (Jim Belushi), her second husband. Humpty works at the merry-go-round at Coney Island, has a serious problem with alcohol and has been known to become abusive from time to time. Still, both of them being two lost souls, they have some sort of connection that keeps drawing them in together.

Humpty also has a daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple). No one has seen or heard from Carolina for five years — ever since she ran off to marry some arrogant mobster when she was twenty years. No one had seen her, that is, until she shows up on Humpty and Ginny’s front door one day, asking for help. She’s left her husband and now needs a place to stay, as her mobster husband surely has people out looking for her.

Humpty eventually agrees, throwing his initial anger out the window just like that. That’s right around the time when Mickey (Justin Timberlake) comes into this story. Mickey is an NYU student who lifeguards at Coney Island over the summer. Mickey first meets Ginny and, Ginny being so unhappy, they begin to have an affair.

Wonder Wheel
credit: Youtube

It’s a passionate relationship, even if Ginny might be a little bit more into it than Mickey is. However, everything is thrown in turmoil when Mickey is introduced to Carolina and Ginny begins to worry that they’re soon going to be sleeping around.

Basically, it’s all a big love triangle type of mess that’s very Woody Allen in that pretentious kind of way, as it’s trying really, REALLY hard to be A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s not.

Let’s first address the elephant in the room: Wonder Wheel hits certain subject matter related to age and dating that might hit a little too close to home with some of the goings-on in Woody Allen’s personal life. I’m not going to pretend the whole story, nor will I say I have the right to sit here and condemn him; that being said, there’s certain things going in Wonder Wheel in which the art may reflect the artist and you begin to question what Allen’s ulterior motives behind making this.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, if you take that entire aspect out of the equation it doesn’t make that big of a difference because Wonder Wheel still isn’t a good movie. Even though it only clocks in at 1 hour and 41 minutes, the whole things feels long, drawn out and boring. The dialogue is poorly written and doesn’t even come close to reflecting the way people actually talk to each other, at times becoming painful to listen to and cringe-worthy.

Wonder Wheel
credit: Youtube

The characters are also another big problem with Wonder Wheel Some of the actors or actresses give really good performances — Winslet is actually great, and makes the film far more watchable than it should have been — but there’s only so much they can all do.

The problem is that there’s not a single likable character in the whole bunch. Winslet, while she’s miserable and all, still does some pretty seedy things and ultimately we can’t root for her. Jim Belushi is pretty over-the-top, at times almost feeling like a cartoon or a parody.

Then there’s Justin Timberlake, who is seriously miscast in the movie. I, personally, am one of the Justin Timberlake apologists when it comes to his acting career as I think he can be great when he’s given the right role (example: The Social Network). However, this was not the right role or career decision for him, as every line he gives feels so off. And that’s not even including all the voice-over and fourth wall breaking that he does, none of which this movie needed in the first place.

Besides Winslet, the other saving grace that Wonder Wheel has to offer is the cinematography. Like Café Society, the film goes out of its way to make you feel like you’re living in this time period, and they do a pretty effective job on their part. There’s some interesting things going on with colors in the backgrounds as well, all of which creates a really good looking movie.

credit: Youtube

If only good looking movies actually made for good movies. Wonder Wheel, sadly, is not that. There’s so much going on with this movie — love triangles, mobsters, a subplot about a little kid starting fires that ultimately goes nowhere — and yet it feels like Woody Allen has nothing to say. Nothing new to say, at least. All of his overambitious messages about love and misery are ones we’ve seen him cover before in other, better films. In a world where we’re forced, for some reason, to sit through one Woody Allen movie a year, Wonder Wheel is one we won’t bother revisiting.

Watch the trailer for Wonder Wheel here and let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below.

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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.