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Wonder Wheel Movie Review

Wonder Wheel (2017) movie poster Wonder Wheel

Theatrical Release: December 1, 2017 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Jim Belushi (Humpty), Juno Temple (Carolina), Justin Timberlake (Mickey Rubin), Kate Winslet (Ginny), Max Casella (Ryan), Jack Gore (Richie), David Krumholtz (Jake), Robert C. Kirk (Boardwalk Vendor), Tommy Nohilly (Humpty's Friend), Tony Sirico (Angelo), Stephen R. Schirripa (Nick), Tom Guiry (Flirtatious Man at Ruby's)


2017 is a year and so it brings a new Woody Allen movie. Some have tried to figure out a way to distinguish Allen's better work from his lesser work,
but his long, calendar-driven career doesn't lend to a tidy analysis like the odd numbered Star Trek sequel theory. Some of his movies are pretty darn good. Others are just okay, if that. You never know what you'll get from the octogenarian filmmaker and yet, you do know: accomplished actors billed alphabetically, jazz, wit, and a Woody surrogate.

Wonder Wheel is not one of Allen's better works. Set on Coney Island in the 1950s, the film opens with our least convincing Woody surrogate to date, lifeguard/romantic Mickey Rubin (Justin Timberlake), addressing the camera directly and telling us about his situation. Supervising the swimmers at Bay 7, which means occasionally thwarting beach ball throwers and getting time off when it rains, Mickey has gotten himself into an affair with Ginny (Kate Winslet), a married 38-year-old waitress who used to act.

In Woody Allen's "Wonder Wheel", Juno Temple plays Carolina, an ingenue who comes to Coney Island to avoid her husband and his gangsters.

Extramarital love is not the only thing spicing up Ginny's summer. She also has to deal with the surprising appearance of Carolina (Juno Temple), the estranged daughter of her hulking husband, ferris wheel operator Humpty (Jim Belushi). Carolina, on the run from her gangster husband and in fear of her life, uses her father's cramped apartment right next to the carnival attractions to lay low, believing it to be the last place anyone would look for her.

The perky twentysomething blonde begins working alongside Ginny at the oyster joint and it's only a matter of time before she forms a love triangle with her father's second wife and that charming, learned lifeguard. A peripheral narrative sees Ginny's pyromaniac redheaded son begin seeing a therapist to understand his acting out.

There are elements of past Allen films here and those that you are reminded of are almost always better. The plot is lacking and underwhelming. It fails to even reach a conclusion, invoking a moral dilemma for the heartbroken Ginny that basically turns her into a full-fledged sociopath. The other characters around her aren't much more likable, though Temple makes for a charismatic ingιnue.

As lifeguard/romantic Mickey Rubin, Justin Timberlake may be the least effective Woody Allen surrogate to date.

It's shocking that Winslet and Allen have not previously crossed paths, but given the history of Allen leading women to award-winning performances, the results here are rather disappointing. Timberlake tries very hard to channel his writer-director in voice and neuroses, but he's never been in as far over his head as he is here. With apparent dental prosthetic and genuine weight gain, Belushi has reinvented himself as a big blubbering beast of a man, though this is probably the only film anytime soon calling for that type.

The performances certainly hinder the proceedings, Timberlake's most of all. But Allen's films always succeed or fail first and foremost on story and characters. It's pretty outrageous to expect any writer-director to churn out a high-quality script every single year for anywhere near as long as Allen has been doing it. One assumes at a certain point he must just accept something imperfect and hope it gets better during the filming or editing.
Sometimes, it probably does. Wonder Wheel does not, though, which makes its December release as the first film self-distributed by Amazon Studios suspect, for it's not really an awards play but also not likely to be a commercial force, as only a few of the director's brightest movies have been.

Wonder Wheel seems to boast the most visual effects of any Allen film to date, as he appears to break down and make use of CGI to recreate the bustling 1950s Coney Island that no longer exists in New York. There's an artificiality we rarely find in Allen's work, and Vittorio Storario's pleasing and colorful cinematography (reuniting with Allen after their underappreciated collaboration on last year's Cafι Society) cannot completely offset that. As such, unless you're swept up in Wonder Wheel's familiar themes and unsatisfying characterizations, you're likely not going to be well-served by this.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Suburbicon • Last Flag Flying • Lady Bird • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri • Roman J. Israel, Esq. • Wonderstruck • The Shape of Water

Written and Directed by Woody Allen:
Annie Hall • Broadway Danny Rose • The Purple Rose of Cairo • Radio Days • Crimes and Misdemeanors • New York Stories
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger • Midnight in Paris • To Rome with Love • Blue Jasmine • Magic in the Moonlight • Irrational Man • Cafι Society

Kate Winslet: The Dressmaker • Steve Jobs • Collateral Beauty • Finding Neverland • Labor Day • Revolutionary Road • Titanic
Justin Timberlake: In Time • Inside Llewyn Davis • Bad Teacher • Trouble with the Curve
Jim Belushi: Gang Related • Thunderstruck • Thief • Salvador | Juno Temple: Magic Magic • Horns • Black Mass • Lovelace

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Reviewed December 1, 2017.

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