Monday, March 26, 2018

Wonder Wheel Review

It's a common device in fiction to start or drive the story forward by the arrival of an unexpected visitor. Woody Allen makes good use of this in his latest movie Wonder Wheel set in 1950's Coney Island.

In this instance the arrival is Carolina (Juno Temple) who is running from trouble and come home seeking refuge with her father Humpty (Jim Belushi), stepmother Ginny (Kate Winslet) and stepbrother Richie (Jack Gore). Unfortunately, Carolina does not realize she has dragged her own proverbial baggage into an already troubled domestic drama. Humpty and Ginny have a dismal marriage and young Richie is a budding pyromaniac setting fires from one end of the boardwalk to the other. To complicate things further, Ginny is having an affair with local lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake) who gets a bit dreamy in the eyes when he meets Carolina.

One of my first likes about Wonder Wheel is that Woody Allen is nowhere to be seen. If not starring in a movie, he usually creates a character who exists as a stand in, emulating him in words and action. Mickey is supposed to be that character here but fortunately Justin Timberlake can't quite pull off the feat. This deficit is a plus though because I was spared dealing with Allen's cinematic doppleganger. That aside, all of the other actors play their parts well especially Kate Winslet. She carries a good part of the movie and becomes a taut bundle of negative energy as Ginny unravels at the prospect of seeing her one bit of happiness possibly lost to Carolina. When her anxiety reaches a fever pitch, the small apartment where her and Humpty live becomes a stage of sorts. She smokes, drinks and paces from one end to the other as the story plays out like a combo of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Tennessee Williams seen through the neurotic lens of Woody Allen.

I found it all quite enjoyable. That's probably not the expected reaction based on how I've described the story. However, I've left one thing out. Mickey is the narrator of Wonder Wheel and he tells us at the beginning that as an aspiring writer and "dramatist", he loves some drama and over the top characters. I see the out of control spiral downward to the end of the movie as a wink and a nod to that warning. We may be seeing the story exactly as Mickey wants us to.

Wonder Wheel gets a B+ and I suggest giving it a chance regardless of your feelings on Woody Allen's distinctive style of movies.