Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’ with Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake bleak despite Coney Island setting: Review

December 11, 2017

Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’ with Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake bleak despite Coney Island setting: Review

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Woody Allen’s latest film is among his bleakest. Despite its candy-colored Coney Island amusement park setting, “Wonder Wheel” is a tragedy. The American auteur’s latest is closest in tone to 2013′s fantastic “Blue Jasmine” than the light trifles he has made in recent years. But this film about a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown lacks the epic sweep, neat plot and Tennessee Williams-like pathos of the earlier film. Instead, it’s stiff, often mean-spirited and almost completely lacking in redemption for its characters. It does look good though.

Set in “The 1950s,” “Wonder Wheel” returns to very familiar Woody Allen territory: Brooklyn and Coney Island. This time, the movie is centered on weary, prickly clam house waitress Ginny (a magnificent Kate Winslet), a former actress brought low by poor choices in her past who is now married to a mostly-on-the-wagon carousel operator named Humpty (Jim Belushi doing his best Full New Yawk impression). They live next to the giant Wonder Wheel (Ferris Wheel), and the whirring colors outside the window provide a whimsical contrast to the harshness of their lives. To add insult to injury, Ginny has a pyromaniac son from her first marriage. Humpty beats them both when he drinks.

In case you didn’t get all of the Eugene O’Neill-isms, it turns out Ginny did some O’Neill back in her stage days and remembers her lines.

Into these sad lives come two strangers, one hot summer. Humpty’s daughter Carolina (a sweet but steely Juno Temple) reappears while on the run from the mob, whom she double-crossed when she left her husband (her plot leads to one the film’s rare funny moments when a some “Sopranos” return, too). Cocky, handsome playwright-lifeguard Mickey (a wooden Justin Timberlake) also upends life for the family. Though these strangers at first seem to offer new hope and opportunity for Ginny and Humpty, as in O’Neill, there is no redemption for these people on the edge. Fate and their own terrible choices have doomed them.

Winslet and Temple are both stellar as complicated – not necessarily nice - women trying to make their way in a hard world. The nostalgia-colored, fading look of Coney Island that cinematographer Vittorio Storaro creates is wonderful. Once glorious and glamorous, now weathered and worn, Storaro makes Coney Island seem as much memory as a place.

But even that is not enough to save this awkwardly written, stilted and sometimes just plain cruel movie.

REVIEW Wonder Wheel

Who: Directed by Woody Allen. With Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple.

Rated: Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking.

Running time: 101 minutes.

When: Opens Friday

Where: Cedar Lee Theatre.

Grade: C