Review by Geoff Jenke
At the age of 82, Woody Allen is still making movies. In the 1950’s Allen was working as a comedy writer for television and print. He started writing directing films in 1965 and to date has made over 60 feature films, the first being What’s New Pussycat in 1965.
So, another year and another Woody Allen movie. (Trivia – the last year Woody didn’t release a movie was 1981.). 2017’s, Wonder Wheel, the name comes from one of the rides at the park, is the first film to be self-distributed to theatres by Amazon Studios.
It tells the story of four characters whose lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the New York, Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s. Allen recreates the feel, sights and sounds of the 50’s admirably for the movie. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke and hot chips in the movie. First up we have Ginny (Kate Winslet), an emotionally volatile former actress who is now working reluctantly as a waitress in a clam house restaurant. She often lives in a fantasy of her youth while living the life fate has given her. Humpty (Jim Belushi) is Ginny’s rough-hewn, ex alcoholic, carousel operator second husband who, despite all his faults often means well. Mickey (Justin Timberlake), who narrates the film, is a handsome young life guard who is dreaming of becoming a playwright.
Enter Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from her ex gangster husband’s mobsters and you have a tale of passion, violence and betrayal.
One thing Woody is good at is portraying women out of control and in Wonder Wheel, Kate Winslet nails the role. She fidgets throughout the movie, worries about her pyromaniac son, great at blaming everything on Carolina, when she moves back in and is magnificent as a woman heading for a breakdown. Justin Timberlake unfortunately is not convincing as Mickey, the lover and lifeguard. He starts off well as narrator, setting up the film for the viewer but then just becomes another actor in the film trying to work out his own issues with life and women.
Woody Allen movies of late have been average, with the occasional one being very good, Blue Jasmine being the last one. However, his films are always an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours and Wonder Wall is no exception.
Perhaps the film could be summed up with Ginny’s words near the end of the film, “Oh God! Spare me the bad drama”. Well maybe not quite that bad. Wonder Wheel is not Woody Allen’s worst movie by far but also not his best by far.