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Woody Allen's 'Wonder Wheel' Just Spins And Spins Without Going Anywhere

By James Jay Edwards
Released: December 8, 2017
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Synopsis
On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his beleaguered wife.

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Production
Given the filmmaker's controversial past, it would seem as if the last thing that the current Hollywood climate needs right now is a new movie from Woody Allen (Match Point, Blue Jasmine). But that's just what the world is getting with Wonder Wheel.

Justin Timberlake in Woody Allen's WONDER WHEEL, an Amazon Studios release. Credit: Jessica Miglio / Amazon Studios.


Set sometime in the 1950s near Coney Island, Wonder Wheel is about a graduate student/boardwalk lifeguard named Mickey (Justin Timberlake from Inside Llewyn Davis) who is having an affair with a married waitress named Ginny (Carnage's Kate Winslet). Ginny's husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi from "According to Jim"), has an estranged daughter named Carolina (Afternoon Delight's Juno Temple) who happens to show up after running away from her gangster husband, driving a romantic wedge in between Mickey and the jealous Ginny, complicating their illicit affair. Things gets even more complicated when Carolina's husband's mob friends show up looking for her.

Taking its name from the amusement park ride that towers over most of the action, Wonder Wheel is one of those movies that has an intriguing premise and a stellar cast, but ultimately fails to deliver on all of that promise. It's mostly backstory with very little actual real-time action, and not just because Mickey does the Woody Allen thing by breaking the fourth wall and telling the tale to the audience in a first-person narrative. The story dwells on what has happened to the characters, their failed relationships and bad past decisions, without giving them anything of substance to do in the here and now. In this way, Wonder Wheel seems like it's telling the audience that it just missed the best part of the story. And Timberlake's winking at the camera is there to constantly remind them.

Juno Temple in Woody Allen's WONDER WHEEL, an Amazon Studios release. Credit: Jessica Miglio / Amazon Studios.


Wonder Wheel is not unwatchable. It is, after all, a Woody Allen movie, so it has some witty dialogue, sports a cool jazzy doo-wop soundtrack, and boasts fine performances from the four principal actors. Wonder Wheel does lack the heart and soul of Allen's other movies, so while it has its clever moments, no one is ever going to accuse it of being another Annie Hall. It's your standard love quadrangle, minus the slapstick humor, minus the heartfelt sentiment, and minus the guilt and remorse. So, what's left?

Lately, Woody Allen's movies have generally been hitting a 50/50 ratio, with one good for every one bad. He's been on a roll lately with Magic in the Moonlight, Irrational Man, and Café Society, so maybe he was due for a disappointing film? Whether he was due or not, disappointment is what he delivers with Wonder Wheel.

Kate Winslet in Woody Allen's WONDER WHEEL, an Amazon Studios release. Credit: Jessica Miglio / Amazon Studios.
Comedy Factor
Even with his more dramatic movies, audiences have come to expect at least a little bit of comedy from Woody Allen's movies. With Wonder Wheel, that little bit is almost non-existent. The funniest bit is not in the writing or the acting, but in the casting; when the mob finally comes looking for Carolina, the two goons are played by "The Sopranos" regulars Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa. Their characters are named Angelo and Nick, but all the knowing viewers in the audience see is Paulie Walnuts and Bobby Bacala. It's a funny little in-joke for fans of the long-running HBO series. Besides that, the most humorous aspect of Wonder Wheel is Humpty and Ginny's kid, a delinquent named Richie (Jack Gore from We Are What We Are), who's a pyromaniac. The running gag is that he sets fire to everything he can get his hands on, and since Allen gives the character nothing else to do in the movie, the kid sets a lot of fires. And it's mildly amusing after a while. But, if the funniest parts of your movie are a couple of bit parts and a running gag, it can't really be considered a comedy. Thus, Wonder Wheel is not a comedy.

Steve Schirripa and Tony Sirico in Woody Allen's WONDER WHEEL, an Amazon Studios release. Credit: Jessica Miglio / Amazon Studios.



Genre
Drama
Release Date
December 8, 2017
MPAA Rating
PG-13
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