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Wonder Wheel (2017) - Movie Review

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Wonder Wheel - Movie Review

2 stars

If it weren’t for Kate Winslet’s fabulous performance and some wonderfully vivid cinematography from Vittorio Storaro, the award-winning cinematographer who shot Apocalypse Now and The Last Emperor, I’d say that director Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel is busted.  It’s not entirely, though, but damn if isn’t a little creaky in some areas, filling what is usually found enjoyable in his movies as sheer racket and clamor from rickety amusement park rides.

With this half-baked narrative, I am beginning to suspect that Mr. Allen, still operating on his standard program, is running out of things to say.  The highs of his latter-day career are getting consequentially lower with each new film.  I’m not yet ready to stop watching what he’s putting out, though.  It’s just a casual observation that many will dismiss as soon as Winslet starts winning awards for her performance in this film as a woman brought to her knees by the hard-edged life on the boardwalk.  

Justin Timberlake needs not be in another motion picture.  There, I said it.  The dude can sing and dance, yes, but act he can NOT.  No, no, no, no.  It’s a damn near embarrassment that renders most of his scenes – AND HE’S THE LEADING MAN!!! – as long and as pointlessly drawn out trips to Nowheresville, USA for a handful of nothing.  Thankfully, we have the imaginative Coney Island seascapes and rides to distract us from his pining back and forth between a married and a marked woman. 

Even the confident storytelling of Allen seems a bit out of synch in this narrative as one struggling housewife (Winslet) finds herself competing with her husband's (Jim Belushi) estranged daughter (Juno Temple) over the same confused lifeguard turned writer (Timberlake).  It’s not nearly as comedic as it sounds.  In fact, unlike its Coney Island (byway of the 1950s) amusement park trappings, the movie is downright grueling to watch unfold. 

Wonder Wheel, in spite of its beautiful locales and surrounding sparks of excitement, goes dark all too soon.  It goes severe, too, ushering us into some pretty uncomfortable places.  Forget about its golden-hued and sea-bound environments.  The conversation between Ginny, a waitress at a clam house, and Mickey, a wannabe writer, about his favorite plays is our warning.

And, with only the fire-starting antics of an underdeveloped child character to make us chuckle, the entire script remains in the shadows, suggesting that the darker side of Allen’s imagination – which is, in fact, where our leading lady stakes her claim by the end of the movie – is indeed a very unsettling place to be.

Wonder Wheel, while not a bad film, is not essential Allen material.  He covers some familiar ground here.  There’s something missing, though.  A more refined approach?  Maybe.  A better leading man?  Definitely.  Either way, Wonder Wheel is a gorgeously shot lesser cinematic effort, even by Allen’s late-career standards. 

But do not make the mistake in thinking that applies to Winslet.  She absolutely delivers a performance that will get her nominations, if not awards this awards season.  Within this movie, she’s every bit as sharp as Allen isn’t.

Wonder Wheel is opening in theaters this weekend.  If you are a super fan of Allen's, you should go and see his latest offering.  Just know that the carnival ride is not that electrifying.

Wonder Wheel - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking.
Runtime: 101 mins
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake
Genre: Drama
Tagline: Wonder Wheel.
Memorable Movie Quote: "For a woman married to a man who got rich by putting people's feet in cement, you probably never had to do a dish"
Theatrical Distributor: Amazon Studios
Official Site:
Release Date: December 1, 2017
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: no details available.
Synopsis: Wonder Wheel tells the story of four characters whose lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s: Ginny (Kate Winslet), an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam house; Humpty (Jim Belushi), Ginny’s rough-hewn carousel operator husband; Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a handsome young lifeguard who dreams of becoming a playwright; and Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment.

No details available.

Wonder Wheel - Movie Review

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