Wonder Wheel




Woody Allen has been writing and directing films for six decades and has received 19 Academy Award nominations and won 4 Oscars.  The octogenarian continues to create a movie per year and with that degree of long term continual output, you can expect the occasional lack lustre effort amid the glories.  Responses to film are deeply personal and while many would disagree, I have really enjoyed most of his recent offerings.  2011’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. 2013’S BLUE JASMINE.  2015’S IRRATIONAL MAN and 2016’S CAFE SOCIETY were quite different as stories and treatments and I thoroughly enjoyed them all when viewed.  


So what does 2017 bring?  It brings a drama with very little comedic inclusion that looks superb and provides a showcase for both Allen’s writing and a power cast to flex their thespian muscles, none more than Kate Winslet.


Set in Coney Island in 1950, Winslet is Ginny, an unhappy broken dreamer nudging age 40 and struggling to deal with the harsh realities of her existence.  Behind her is the wreckage of a life ruined by bad choices and unrealistic hopes.  She tried to be an actress but failed.  She married a drummer and had a son but her infidelity destroyed the marriage.  Ginny now lives on Coney Island with her second husband Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator who is a recovering alcoholic with a fiery temper.  There is no love in the union.  Ginny wed him to provide some stability for her troubled pre teen son Ritchie, a budding pyromaniac with more psychological problems than Freud could address.


She is having an affair with Mickey (Justin Timberlake) the local lifeguard who wants to be a writer and they are hatching plans to run away together but if either thinks there is any future in it they are fooling themselves. 


Into this messy scenario comes Humpty’s estranged daughter Carolina (Juno Temple).  At age 20 she defied her father to leave college and marry a gangster and he told her to ‘never set foot in his home again’.  But Caro has nowhere else to go.  Predictably, her gangster spouse Frank has been knocking her about and she fled the home and was existing on the street when she was apprehended by the FBI.  Threatened with five years imprisonment as an accessory unless she spoke up, Caro foolishly told the FBI about her husband’s affairs and named names.  Now he and the mob want her dead.  Because her husband is aware of the intense negative feelings between father and daughter, she assumes that her father’s home on Coney Island is the last place the gangsters will search for her.  Apart from the risk this brings to Humpty, Ginny and Ritchie, Carolina is also beginning to fall for Mickey, oblivious to the situation between he and Ginny.


This production is eye-meltingly photographed by the incomparable veteran Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro who has won three Oscars for APOCALYPSE NOW –REDS and THE LAST EMPEROR.  His glorious work combined with the production design of Santo Loquasto creates a truly beautiful visual look to the tale. The cast are stellar with no weak performances.  Jim Belushi’s blue-collar boozer and Juno Temple’s doomed Carolina are great and even Justin Timberlake, a tad outclassed in this company, does a good rendition of Mickey.  But this is Kate Winslet’s triumph.  If Belushi appears to be channeling the odd Clifford Odets or Eugene O’Neill character, Winslet’s Ginny resonates with Tennessee William’s heroines, primarily STREETCAR’s Blanche Dubois.  


At the film’s conclusion, stripped of her carefully fostered illusions and delusions and facing reality full on, she delivers a monologue about marriage that not only is a credit to Allen’s writing but caps off one of her best performances since THE READER.  She is astonishingly good.  Brava!   




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