Wonder Wheel: Probably the last Woody Allen movie we’ll review
Most of this just-about-okay film exists in nostalgic twilight. How appropriate
Wonder Wheel stars an iffy Kate Winslet as a disappointed woman seeking reinvention
Film Title: Wonder Wheel
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi, Max Casella, Brittini Schreiber
Running Time: 101 min
If you thought Vittorio Storaro’s photography for Woody Allen’s Café Society was a bit on the hyperglycaemic side then you had best take a bucket of insulin to Wonder Wheel. Illuminated by the arcades of Coney Island in a post-war summer, most of the film exists in golden nostalgic twilight.
This could hardly be more appropriate. The Irish Times first reviewed a film directed by Woody Allen in 1966. He has one more picture in the can, but, with #MeToo disapproval hardening against the octogenarian, it seems unlikely he will see another project distributed in this territory.
Wonder Wheel sums up the career nicely (this is not wholly a compliment). Starring an iffy Kate Winslet as a disappointed woman seeking reinvention, the film visits a home close to the one young Alvy survived in Annie Hall. The big wheel looms. The roller coaster rattles. Ginny Rannell (Winslet) suffers from permanent, nagging headaches – “like Oswald in Ghosts,” perhaps – induced by the shooting range beneath.
Wonder Wheel trailer
As is the case with many Allen joints, the picture makes good use of a young actress in a supporting role. Juno Temple is convincing as a bright woman, daughter to Ginny’s second husband, who arrives seeking protection from angry mobsters.
Once again, the director, who works faster than is sensible, hangs the film around an under-developed cultural conceit. Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard who yearns to be a playwright, narrates Wonder Wheel and, reflecting his ambitions, the action – much of it staged in a three-walled set – often seems spliced from Arthur Miller’s off-cuts.
That effect is reinforced by the lead’s conspicuous struggles with an unconvincing, stagy accent, straight out of Winslet, Oklahoma. “You brought about your own downfall,” Mickey says before throwing around references to Hamlet and Oedipus. Get it?
In short, Wonder Wheel sums up the Allen career by being just about okay. Stormers such as Crimes and Misdemeanours, Annie Hall and Broadway Danny Rose make up a small portion of the vast oeuvre. Absolute stinkers such as Cassandra’s Dream or Match Point were equally rare.
The new film falls near the median: some good performances, some bad ones, a few half-baked ideas, some memorable images. The opening shot, depicting Coney Island as a vintage postcard, is as pretty as anything you’ll see this year. Thus (I suspect) ends a relationship we began 52 years ago.