WONDER WHEEL — FILM CRITIQUE

WONDER WHEEL, written and directed by Woody Allen, is the narrative of four characters whose lives intertwine in a flurry of frustration, danger and passion amid the hustle and bustle of summertime Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s.

Wonder Wheel — sorry, I’ll stick with Wonderwall

Ginny (Kate Winslet), is an emotionally unstable woman approaching her fortieth birthday; she senses that this landmark is synonymous with the steady erosion of her dreams of being a successful actress.

Humpty (Jim Belushi), Ginny’s craggy, hard-drinking carousel operator husband cares little for either her ambition or her pyromaniac son, Riche (Jack Gore).

Until meeting Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a good-looking young lifeguard who has aspirations of becoming a playwright, Ginny has only experienced true love once. She adored her first husband, a jazz drummer, but threw it all away with a dilettante affair that ended her marriage and left her married to Humpty and working as a waitress in a clam house.

Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, has left her gangster husband and is now lying low from the vengeance of the mob and a jilted husband in her father’s noisy fairground apartment.

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro captures a tale of passion, violence, and betrayal that plays out against the picturesque if almost cartoon-like montage of 1950s Coney Island.

Is this Woody Allen at his brilliant best?

Categorically not, for this is a narrative that is predictable, moves with the pace of a freight train with the handbrake on and is tarnished by over-acting and a ‘50s soundtrack that serves but one purpose: to remind us to stay awake.

For sure, Storaro’s cinematography is a brilliant work of art, and the subtleties of lighting reflect delicately nuanced shifts of moods and for this alone, Wonder Wheel is a movie worth watching.

The performance of three of the four main characters is utterly wooden and tainted with overacting; only Timberlake, in his first collaboration with Allen, in both his role of narrator and as Mickey carries any authority, and his portrayal of the love-vulnerable but credible Micky is pretty much the only engine to drive this slow train forward.

The movie ends in the same insouciant manner as it begins; it would be hard to write a spoiler for this one.

As a story, it lacks narrative drive because the tension is there somewhere, but only in the

Hate to say it, but the boy done good

way that a snail lacks pace. Sure, conflict is to be found in all the obvious places, but the prospect of resolution is so remote as to render Wonder Wheel as dull as a dreary day in Coney Island.

This is a story that would have been better presented as a stage play. Or actually, come to think of it, as a musical.

The only real interest, for me, is whether Richie will burn down something big; maybe elevate himself to a stage of infamy that his mother would not achieve — but as an arsonist.

I watched Wonder Wheel yesterday afternoon in Wroclaw’s main cinema complex — a fine place with many cultural add-ons not normally found in cinemas in the UK.

Ten minutes into the movie, a person whose role was formally referred to as the usher, instructed me to stop unwrapping my sweets. The only reason I could attribute to this is that the barely audible noise was keeping other cinemagoers awake.

There is nothing wonderful about Wonder Wheel, where stereotype falls over stereotype.

I really hope Woody has another classic in him, but this is as far off the mark as is the notion of a Chinese garden in Greenwich Village in the ‘50s.

 

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