Woody Allen’s latest film as director/writer, like his last three or four films (I’ve honestly lost count at this point), is another foray into material that he’s mined before but that won’t be a total surprise for those who’ve kept up with the Woodman’s cinematic output here of late. In this film, once again, there is the soul searching and the ache for lasting love and the regret of mistakes made in the past peppered with a sense of nostalgia and wistfulness for a time that’s long past. All of the ingredients are there and yet they never quite come together. It just doesn’t gel like you hope that it will. It’s all wrapped in a beautiful package of stunning period detail and incredible cinematography. That may be enough for those who don’t scrutinize things too closely but for those of us who know better, Wonder Wheel is simply another exhibit in a distressingly growing list of misfires that litter the great filmmaker’s resume. I haven’t given up on him yet but it’s getting harder when each passing project seems to repeat the same things we’ve heard before and articulated much better in years gone by.
Justin Timberlake has what I would label as the lead role in Wonder Wheel. He is, at the very least, the leading male in the film and serves as onscreen narrator. It’s the 1950s and the setting is Coney Island. His character is Mickey, a college literature student with grand dreams of being the next Arthur Miller by writing a play that will change the world. During the summers he works as a lifeguard to make a little extra income. It’s there on the beach that he chances upon Ginny (Kate Winslet), an unhappily married woman with failed artistic ambitions. Ginny has resigned herself to a life with her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator with dim prospects. To make matters worse her son casually starts fire at the drop of a hat (a subplot that goes nowhere) and her husband’s estranged daughter from his first marriage (Juno Temple) has reappeared and is on the run from gangsters. Mickey falls for Ginny and it seems like a match made in heaven. That is until he chances to meet Ginny’s stepdaughter. I’ll say no more.
Wonder Wheel is the kind of film that appears on the surface to have all the perfect ingredients for a terrific stew of drama and romance. Somehow it fails to generate the dramatic fireworks that you keep hoping are just around the corner. It’s breathtaking to look at but as a story the word letdown is the only one that comes to mind at the moment.
FOCUS couldn’t find any theaters playing Wonder Wheel in this area, which opens nationally December 8.
Images: Timberlake & Winslet in Wonder Wheel
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