Set in Coney Island in the 1950s, Wonder Wheel follows Ginny (Winslet), lifeguard and aspiring playwright Mickey (Timberlake), Ginny’s husband, Humpty (Belushi), and Humpty’s estranged but beautiful daughter, Carolina (Temple).
The set-up is promising. Kind of. Ginny is having an affair with Mickey. The beautiful, flirty Carolina, ex-wife of a gangster who has now been ‘marked’ by the mob, seeks protection with her father. She meets Mickey. Mickey falls for her. Ginny, beset by frustration, a pyromaniac son, and constant migraines, begins to unravel.
Allen was one of the first auteurs to really draw me into film: Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and her Sisters, Annie Hall, and more recent efforts like Vicky Christina Barcelona, Blue Jasmine, and Midnight in Paris.
Focusing on the art rather than the artist, his productions possess an astute understanding of everything from dialogue to colours to mise en scène. In many cases, the final products are spectacular.
Wonder Wheel bears echoes of this cinematic craftsmanship. Thanks to the handiwork of cinematographer Vittoria Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor), the film is really, really pretty. Ginny and Humpty’s apartment, perched below the eponymous Wonder Wheel, twinges with blues and reds from the rides. Soft light falls on faces in moments of epiphanies. Coney Island itself is hypnotic and compelling — though the metaphors that could be untangled between it and Ginny seem underutilised. The ending grasps at poignancy: a reminder that life, unlike drama, is not easily resolved, that fatal flaws do not lead to an explosive ending, and that the greatest suffering is often hidden.
Allen’s films seem to frequently wish they were plays, and Wonder Wheel is no exception.
The frequent repetition — of phrases, idea, and information — mimics the wheel’s churning and enhance the sense of claustrophobia.
And then, of course, there were the moments when Allen draws on his life. Multiple scenes accused Humpty of treating Carolina like his ‘girlfriend’. Because in Allen’s world, no one — not even her father — can resist a pretty young woman.
We have been witness to Allen’s bright, fanciful, literary, goofy, lyrical, musical and hilarious. Now this is Allen’s dark, but still excellent in every way.
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