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  • Writer's pictureHunter Friesen

"Wonder Wheel" Review

Woody Allen has made some great films over his time. Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Midnight in Paris are just a few that come right away. But with all those hits come a few misses, and his new film, Wonder Wheel, is in contention to claim the top spot of his misses. Some of the laziest and uninteresting writing/directing, along with questionable performances make this one of 2017’s hardest films to sit through.

The story takes place on Coney Island during the summer of 1952. Working class and middle-aged, Ginny (Kate Winslet) and Humpty (Jim Belushi) work on the boardwalk in jobs that barely keep them afloat. They have seen better days, as both have been divorced and have rotten kids. One day, Humpty’s estranged daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), shows up at their tiny apartment asking for protection as she tries to run away from her mob husband who is out to kill her for ratting to the police. Also in the mix is Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard who becomes romantically involved with both Ginny and Carolina. What ensues is a love triangle between a divorcee that needs a second lease on life, a young man who wants to see the world, and a young woman who needs to get away from her past.

On paper, the overall plot sounds pretty interesting, especially since it comes from Woody Allen, a master at writing about troubled relationships. Unfortunately, the writing here feels like it was a college student’s rough draft for an assignment they started the night before it was due. Everything is unevenly paced and some storylines are added and/or dropped for no clear reason. Ginny has a son who has an addiction to starting fires, even though she pleads him to stop. In the end, the kid keeps starting fires and nothing has changed. There is also the story about the gangsters coming for Carolina. They are introduced early but are then dropped until the very end of the film, even though it is too late as they have been afterthoughts for the past hour and a half.

Along with the dodgy writing comes an even bigger problem, all of the characters are unlikable to the point where no one cares what happens to them. Ginny is very demanding and bitchy, Humpty is an oaf, Carolina is a whiny brat, and Mickey is a boastful know it all. I was getting angrier and angrier as time went on and just wanted it to end.

For fans of Allen’s earlier work, simply skip this film. His efforts to write about messy relationships here just end with arguments about the how good the past was and how we make bad decisions. It’s all too melodramatic and self-serious as each character wallows in their past struggles and begs for the audience to feel sympathy for them.

Another problem in terms of execution comes from the cinematography and choice of colors. The shots of the boardwalk at dusk or night are beautiful to look at as the carnival lights and sun reflecting off the water. But once the setting shifts to the indoors the camera is poorly used and an awful color pattern technique flashes every once in a while. The colors of the carnival lights shine through the windows with bright reds and dark blues, trying to symbolize the mood of the scene and its characters. That idea sounds nice on paper, but on screen, it is done rather poorly. The lights distract too much and consume the whole set and make it look like a rainbow.

The only saving grace this film has is Kate Winslet, who does a lot to try and save her doomed character. She delivers her lines convincingly and is committed to the role. She uses facial expressions and body language very well, which are a positive balance to her negative lines.

The three other leads land on the opposite side of the quality spectrum. Each of them shows a bit of potential in the beginning and then squanders it immediately after. Belushi first has Humpty as a recovering alcoholic trying to manage an unhappy marriage and spiteful daughter. After the first act, he turns Humpty into a hopeless mope, and his quality dips further as the film progresses. Temple does a fine job when Carolina is in immediate danger, as she has the voice and emotions of a scared girl, but once her character is safe she commits less. Timberlake is both annoying and amateurish in his performance as Mickey. He never makes his character stand out, which is also part Allen’s fault, and woodenly displays his emotions.

Without Winslet’s talent, this film would have been a complete dumpster fire. Every other aspect of the film is either downright bad or too inconsistent. As the saying goes for Allen’s never-ending career, let’s hope next year’s is the one to bring him back to form.


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