UK Release Date: 9th March 2018
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Kate Winslet, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Jim Belushi, Jack Gore, Tony Sirico, Steve Schirripa
Synopsis: A lifeguard gets caught up in a love triangle between a married woman, with whom he is having an affair, and her husband’s mob-linked daughter from a previous marriage.
It’s not a good time for the release of a Woody Allen film and, indeed, Wonder Wheel has been shunted in and out of cinemas as quickly as humanly possible. Even aside from the disturbing allegations levelled against Allen, which have become more prominent in recent months, the movie is an utter footnote in his career. It lacks the wit and comic energy of his ‘early, funny ones’ and it’s equally free of the kind of drama that made Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine so impressive.
Wonder Wheel is a misguided exercise for which the phrase “style over substance” feels like too much of a compliment. It’s clear that Allen and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro wanted to replicate the vibrant colours of the Coney Island fairground setting in every shot of the movie. The effect, while initially intriguing, soon becomes infuriating and headache-inducing, with baffling changes taking place mid-scene, transitioning from harsh lighting to even harsher lighting. It’s a stylistic flourish that is worlds away from the deliberately theatrical plot, which centres around Justin Timberlake as lifeguard Mickey – an insufferable Allen surrogate.
Mickey is having an affair with Ginny (Kate Winslet), for whom he represents an idealistic alternative to her brutish husband Humpty (Jim Belushi). Ginny becomes increasingly disillusioned with her home life when Humpty’s daughter from a previous marriage, Carolina (Juno Temple), arrives at their door while on the run from the mobster she married as a teenager. Her troubles become even worse when Mickey and Carolina meet and immediately take a romantic interest in each other.
This is a movie in which nobody speaks like a human being. Allen’s trademark verbosity sits very awkwardly in the mouths of these characters. Timberlake, in particular, is saddled with toe-curling nonsense about how “my fatal flaw is that I’m too romantic” and how things “fit into the romantic narrative of the writer’s life”. Everybody speaks as if they’re reading their dialogue for the first time from a sheet of paper that someone is holding just off camera, which creates a chasm of emptiness in all of the supposed relationships, which is only exacerbated by the inherently artificial visual feel.
Allen fills Wonder Wheel with dismal sub-plots that never appear to come to fruition in any real way. Ginny and Humpty’s son has the bizarre dual hobbies of sneaking off to the cinema and setting things on fire, which is never elaborated upon in any meaningful way, and the supposed threat of mob enforcers coming to kill Carolina is only ever on the periphery of the bland romantic difficulties.
Wonder Wheel is a tedious story in which the characters are surrounded by people having great, unpretentious fun, which only rubs it in for the inevitably bored audience even more.
Pop or Poop?
A fine selection of usually reliable actors fall apart in the face of perhaps Woody Allen’s worst ever script in Wonder Wheel, with their work obscured even further by overwrought visual styling that never complements the plot in the way that it’s supposed to. Even among the rather low bar set by the late period of Allen’s career, this is a disappointing and tedious nadir.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.