REVIEW: Wonder Wheel

Review by Dustin Heller

Wonder Wheel is the new Woody Allen period drama set at an amusement park in 1950s Coney Island, New York.  The 82-year-old Oscar-winning director has an illustrious career that spans more than six decades with a multitude of accolades and awards.  He has four Academy Awards to his name, with three of them coming in the form of Best Original Screenplay.  Not only can he direct, but he can also write!  Like all Allen films, Wonder Wheel boasts an A-list cast including Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, and Justin Timberlake.  The film is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking.

The film revolves around Ginny, a waitress and the wife of a carousel operator, who is unhappy with how her life has turned out.  She had big dreams of becoming an actress and making it big, but she now fills her days at a dead-end job and trying to keep her son from setting everything on fire.  Things begin to change for Ginny when she meets Mickey, a young and attractive lifeguard who shows interest and ignites a spark in her.

At the same time, her husband’s estranged daughter, Carolina, comes to town looking for help.  She married a man in the mob and now they’re after her, and she has nowhere else to turn.  Ginny isn’t happy about the situation and wants her out of the house immediately, but her husband takes her in.  Things really take a turn when Carolina meets Mickey and they both feel an instant attraction.  This sends Ginny into a downward spiral and everything in her life begins to unravel, including her sanity.

So it is, another year and another Woody Allen film.  I truly am amazed at the pace this man works.  Not only does he direct these films, but he also writes all of them.  Where does he find the time?  I’m in the camp that Woody Allen films are an acquired taste and I have really become quite a fan over the years.  Even though I tend to find most of stuff interesting, he does have a tendency to mix in a dud on occasion.

I’m not sure I’d classify Wonder Wheel as a dud, but it is definitely not one of Woody’s stronger outings.  The look of the film is true to the period and has a very nostalgic feel to it. This aspect, in and of itself, was very entertaining and refreshing.  The screenplay is really quite good and has the makings to be a great film, but the characters muddied the waters for me.

Kate Winslet is one of the finest actors of her generation and she is great in this film, but her character is so unlikable that it wears you down after a while.  She played the part almost too well.  In contrast to Winslet’s performance, I felt that Jim Belushi was in over his head in this role–it sure came across like he was trying too hard.

Overall, Wonder Wheel isn’t a complete disaster and should appeal to the diehard Woody Allen fans out there–but let’s be honest, people aren’t going to the movies this weekend for the latest Woody Allen film.

Grade:  C+

Wonder Wheel opens in theaters on Friday, December 15