Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Kate Winslet
For years, Woody Allen has entertained millions with his dry sense of humor through his subtle play on emotions. He is one of the few active directors who is still pushing a film out at least once a year and there is an audience waiting to eat up his brand of humor. His latest film, Wonder Wheel benefits from an exceptional cast and attention to detail, but struggles with inconsistent characters and story telling.
As the film opens, we meet Humpty Rannell (Belushi), the caretaker of the Wonder Wheel ferris wheel on Coney Island. His wife, Ginny (Winslet) spends her off time keeping Humpty off the sauce, while she secretly imbibes. Her son, Richie (Jack Gore) lives with them. When Ginny isn’t home keeping Humpty in line, she is a waitress at the local clam café. With the mob after her for turning dime on her mobster husband, Carolina (Temple) seeks out Ginny, telling her Humpty is her father and that she’s looking to lay low.
Here is yet another example of a film that is shot as if it is a stage play. We are given a few exterior locations to establish the timeframe and the mood. Most of the film is spent inside the Rannell’s apartment, so when we get follow our characters into the city or on to the boardwalk, we can breathe a bit of the salty air.
You would swear in the first few minutes of the film that Belushi was actually John Goodman. Belushi shined as a man on the edge of losing his last nerve in the opening moments of the film, constantly trying to do right by his small family. Winslet was gold as Ginny. She not only had to play housewife and referee, but she also had to constantly keep an eye on Richie.
And then there was Mickey (Timberlake), the crux of our story.
Mickey, the lifeguard is our conscience and our guide. He becomes Ginny’s rise and Carolina’s spiral out of control, yet he has no real vested interest in either lady. And that’s where the story falters. Sure, Timberlake’s performance is first rate. I would expect nothing less of someone who personifies Woody Allen. The tryst between Ginny, Mickey and Carolina is tense and believable, but the payoff just fades off in to the gorgeous Vittorio Storaro sunset.
Woody forces us to look through his rose-colored glasses at what might have been and what actually was. It feels modern enough to be new Woody, but it also felt like we’ve seen this Ferris Wheel spin before.
Not all is lost. The drama and tension that Allen builds is the highlight of the film; his characters are humans who fit the times they lived in, always looking over their shoulders, always hiding their problems or other’s problems from one another in order to move their own agendas forward. Money, or the lack thereof was also a central theme.
The unintentionally funny moment in the film is when the two thugs, Nick (Steve Schirripa) and Angelo (Tony Sirico) come looking for Carolina and Ginny runs interference, telling them Carolina’s headed west to Hollywood. And, they fall for it, hook, line and sinker. Yes, Allen brings it back in the end of the film, but the mob subplot is never fully explored, becoming a distraction from the family drama and the love triangle that takes shape.
Woody Allen still makes solid entertainment. Wonder Wheel has elements of his past greats, but it stumbles to the finish line.
2.5 out of 4