Another year, another Woody Allen film. It seems that, just like veteran actor Robert Deniro, both of these Hollywood giants can’t stop making films but boy is it ever getting ever stale. Not only has it been a while since anything remotely worthwhile has come it for both of these stars, it just feels like similar mistakes are being repeated and nothing is being learned with time. Allen’s latest film Wonder Wheel, takes up yet another equivocal tole for fan’s, still clinging to what it once meant to go see a Woody Allen written and directed picture.
Wonder Wheel’s major fault is that it takes plight for tropes already explored and by this point, too well-known to be in a Woody Allen picture that it should be banned. We follow the life of a failed actress Ginny (Kate Winslet), who is the wife of a carousel operator on Coney island in the 1950s, as she takes up an affair with the handsome young lifeguard played Mickey (Justin Timberlake). Their romance sparkles at first but becomes soon complicated when Ginny’s husband (Jim Belushi) is visited by his estranged daughter who also begins to set her sights on Mickey. And so begins yet another Woody Allen love triangle for us to see.
From Vicky Cristina Barcelona to Café Society and now Wonder Wheel, Allen appears to have a particular interest in resurrecting the love triangle plot device from time to time and unfortunately here it does not work in his favor. The story becomes a little too predictable and stale from viewing his past history with writing such tropes and it doesn’t have the same fire it once did when it came to films such as Vicky Cristina Barcelona. What we’re given is simply an exploration of new faces Allen hasn’t used in a dull and traditional premise.
Wonder Wheel feels more appropriately adapted to a play rather than a film. It has long moments of dialogue that feel like character monologues or laments suited best on stage as they don’t feel too cinematic to be interesting. Each character feels like they are hitting a purposeful and obvious beat that is also reminding of such a format and from scene to scene, it becomes ever clearer that a stage audience would more enjoy the dramatic overtones. In fact, Ginny herself several times mentions how she craves to be an actress on stage once again with Mickey the lifeguard also breaking the fourth wall as a narrator to the story, informs us of his passions to write a truly inspirational stage play. It seems like the characters themselves are demanding to be put on as a play but perhaps Allen is too blind sighted to see it himself (unless it is purposeful commentary as no character gets what they truly want).
The only positive side to the film is the faithful re-creation of the Coney Island setting in the 50’s. A bright, vibrant display of colors and classic costuming choices is evident to see, with attention to detail in these regards to being commended. They’re a large shot’s of the beach lifestyle with numerous extra’s on display that works well to give a sense of the hustle and bustle the island was as a holiday destination. Any shots of the boardwalks and sound design also added to produce the feeling of a circus styled getaway and you do feel the same sense of how it would have looked like as if it were you taking a stroll down right now.
But aside from that, Wonder Wheel offers not much more. Performances by Winslet and Belushi were solid with each embracing their role as best as possible. Though their characters would be frustrating to watch at times, you could tell that this was more so the fault of the writing rather than them as a performer. Timberlake was fine as the young strapping man role that he had to fill but aside from that, he didn’t have much of an arc to work upon. In fact, this was really only clear with the lead Ginny as she worked to overcome her frustrations in her dull life through finding a potential escape in Mickey but having said that, it wasn’t particularly engaging. You couldn’t really sympathize with her situation nor could you care about her actions that led to serious consequences later on.
All in all Wonder Wheel is less of a wondrous spectacle and more of a tiresome affair. At 101 minutes, it is largely an over amount of time given to what is too simple of a plot that follows traditional tropes we already know too well. Woody Allen seems to only work best when exploring new and interesting concepts such as in Midnight in Paris or when he dives deep into developing complex character studies such as Blue Jasmine. Here’s hoping he focuses to either add to those strengths or to create something new for the future.