Review: Wonder Wheel

Wonder Wheel
8 10

PLOT: A Coney Island waitress (Kate Winslet), trapped in a loveless marriage to a Carousel operator (James Belushi), falls in love with a younger lifeguard (Justin Timberlake), but she has a rival in her newly arrived step-daughter (Juno Temple).

REVIEW: After his first two relatively light and frothy Amazon efforts, CAFÉ SOCIETY and the TV series “Crisis in Six Scenes”, Woody Allen gets back into the game with one of his more harrowing and bitter latter-efforts, WONDER WHEEL. Arguably his darkest film since CASSANDRA’S DREAM, it’s gussied up by depicting Coney Island of the fifties, but the nostalgic filter only serves to highly the inherent bitterness in the characters, none of whom get away clean.

It’s a powerful star vehicle for Kate Winslet, similar to Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning turn in BLUE JASMINE in that her character, a forty-year old former actress-turned-waitress, would feel right at home in a Tennessee Williams play. Daring to make her unlikable, she’s a vain, selfish woman, but she’s arguably no worse than anyone around her. Having pushed her first husband into an early grave with her philandering, she’s resigned herself to a meager existence as the wife of a Coney Island carny, with James Belushi her working-stiff hubby, who’d be an OK guy if he weren’t such an abusive drunk.

Bored to death, two kinds of drama work their way into her life, one welcome, one decidedly not. The welcome distraction is her flirtation with a writer-lifeguard, played by Justin Timberlake, who seems to be channeling Allen himself, or at least Allen’s idealized version of what he would have been given his looks. Neurotic and with a flair for drama, he’s nonetheless a reckless heart-breaker, plunging himself into a dangerous flirtation with Winslet, who plays her part with mounting desperation at her lot in life.

The other, less welcome, piece of drama to enter her life is the reemergence of her husband’s long-absent daughter, played by a revelatory Juno Temple, who we learn is on the run from mobsters (played by “Sopranos” vets Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa) for “singing like a canary”. Wanna bet she winds up in the crosshairs of Timberlake’s lifeguard?

Adopting an almost play-like vibe at times, with Allen moving his camera around his main set, the loft apartment shared by Belushi, Winslet and her pyromaniac son, WONDER WHEEL, surprisingly, is also Allen’s most visually dynamic film in years. Shot by Vittorio Storaro in almost psychedelic colors, I can’t remember an Allen movie ever looking quite so bold (it’s shot in the DP’s preferred 2:1 aspect ratio). It’s ironic that being an Amazon production, it will likely to be seen by more people at home than in theaters.

One of the things about reviewing Woody Allen films is this – they’re an acquired taste. With him coming up on fifty years of directing, and averaging one a year, he’s made a lot of great movies, a lot of good ones, and a few bad ones too. WONDER WHEEL, as far as his movies go, isn’t a great one, but it’s more than second-tier Woody too, and one of his better recent efforts.

Source: JoBlo.com



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