Wonder Wheel Movie Review
“Wonder Wheel” is a new movie from Woody Allen full of drama and dialogue, Allen’s favorite topics. However, in this case the drama is weak and the dialogue is ponderous and overblown. Woody Allen is not devoid of talent, but in this case, he seems to have misplaced his writing skills. They were replaced with a first-year college student attempt at writing ‘serious’ drama. The story is very slim and the characters are two-dimensional at best. The actors are giving it their best shot, but it’s hard to make an impact with such light-weight material.
In 1950 at Coney Island, there is a large Ferris wheel ride called (strangely enough) “Wonder Wheel”. Ginny (Kate Winslet) is a failed actress with a young son, and her first husband left her. She is now married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), an easy-going guy who works at the merry-go-round in the amusement park. Humpty and Ginny, who works as a waitress at a bar in the park, both live with her son in a tiny apartment next to the Wonder Wheel. They have little money, and things are usually tense between them. But it is about to get worse.
Humpty has a grown daughter from his first marriage, named Carolina (Juno Temple). She had left and gotten married to a gangster, and Humpty was not pleased. But her marriage went bad, and she left the mob life, and then talked with the FBI. Carolina is now a marked woman, and she is being chased by some thugs who want to kill her. But Carolina goes back to the one place that she knows will have someone to take her in. She goes back to Humpty and his meager life. But she will now share a space with Humpty and Ginny and her son, and this makes everyone feel on edge. She also has dangerous thugs coming after her, so everyone is also very nervous.
Ginny destroyed her first marriage by being unfaithful, and she is again falling into this same pattern this time. She is sneaking away to make time to be with Mickey (Justin Timberlake). He is a grad student and works as a summer lifeguard in the park. Mickey also acts a narrator during the entire movie, which makes his character seem even more awkward. He talks a good game to Ginny, so much so that she thinks he is truly in love with her. Mickey then meets Carolina, so his infatuation is torn between the two women. Ginny is furious and makes several bad decisions that will affect everyone involved.
There are numerous loose ends and unanswered plot points. Ginny takes a lot of money that Humpty had saved, and she spent it on Mikey. Ginny’s son has a habit of starting fires and causing destruction. Ginny’s first husband was a drummer and she was an actress, but all of these things are mentioned and appear to have some deeper meaning. But nothing becomes of any of the things that get mentioned and discussed. So why bring any of these up at all? No answer…
There is something very odd about the screen images at some points. There are times when the screen is awash in a garish reddish-orange color, but it slowly turns into a dark blue tint. Sometimes a character is in a harsh bright light, and then other times when they are hidden in shadow and darkness. Part of this is supposed to reflect living under the lights of the Ferris wheel next door. But it is not a good look for the movie. The characters are subject to a weird pattern of lighting that does not look realistic.
The screenplay is a major sticking point. The dialog seems very ‘theater’ based, and not so much prepared for a cinematic experience. The script feels very full of high ideals and expectations. But it fails to deliver on any of it. There is talk of metaphors and allusions to great theater works, but it just shows how weak this story line is compared to those major works. The actors are doing a admirable job putting their best effort into the movie. However, the result is off-the-mark because the story and the dialog lets them down. Woody Allen has made some very memorable movies. This is not one of those movies.
Coney Island is probably a great place to visit in real life. The actual Wonder Wheel looks very impressive and must be a fun ride. But the Woody Allen treatment of “Wonder Wheel” is not all that good. His version goes around and around, but it never gets you anywhere. This one from Allen is not worth the ride.
Wonder Wheel Review
Wonder Wheel Summary
Written and Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake
Length: 101 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking