I had forgotten that Wonder Wheel is the latest film written and directed by Woody Allen until those first moments of his signature font and title card. At that point, I was apprehensive but willing to try. Really, I’m always willing to give any movie a fair shot.
In Wonder Wheel, we follow a few people on Coney Island in the 1950s as they have awful things happen to them and do awful things to each other. The film begins with Justin Timberlake as the classic Woody Allen 4th wall breaker Mickey, talking directly to us about the story we’re about to watch, in which he features prominently. Justin Timberlake is often a charismatic guy, especially on Saturday Night Live, but here he’s given lines that he does not pull off.
Kate Winslet is here as the only actor that elevates the trite, playing bored housewife Ginny, married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), in a relationship that’s terrible. Ginny is a loud, strident, angry woman and Humpty is a recovering alcoholic (he beat her when he drank) and runs the carousel. Ginny also has a son from a previous marriage Richie (Jack Gore), who is a pyromaniac.
This is played for laughs constantly, and leads to nowhere at all. It is a pointless subplot that does not matter except for the weird parallels to what the movie is really about. By the way, the movie is basically about Woody Allen. Ginny represents his ex-partner Mia Farrow, Justin Timberlake is Woody himself, and Richie is probably Dylan Farrow, who has accused Woody Allen of abusing her when she was seven.
I didn’t really want to watch this movie, but I don’t like walking out once the movie starts.
The movie’s plot begins when Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up, on the run from her mobster husband after she spoke to the Feds. Instantly Ginny is jealous and angry, but she soon meets Mickey and begins an affair with him. Mickey speaks in a way that is insufferable and annoying, calling himself a “dramatist” constantly and completely affected. This affair isn’t romantic, interesting, sexy, or even horrifying. It’s just dull.
The rest of the metaphor kicks in when Carolina meets Mickey, and since Carolina represents Soon-Yi Previn, Woody Allen’s current wife, the creepiness explodes off the screen. Now, I may be reading too much into it, but I don’t think so. Mickey is a wannabe playwright in the 1950s, around the same age Woody would’ve been then. He is sleeping with an older woman (although Mia Farrow is not older than Woody Allen) but is more attracted to the younger lady.
If only any of these characters were worth our time. Mickey is a pretentious selfish idiot who lacks any self-awareness, Ginny is a terrible mother who lashes out at people who don’t deserve it, Carolina has no personality, and Humpty is a big fat guy. I don’t get the point of this movie, everyone is a bad person or uninteresting, and the movie doesn’t let anything good happen to anyone. At times it approaches comedy, but it’s starkly unfunny.
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Wonder Wheel has a run time of 1 hour 41 minutes and is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking