wonder wheel

Review by dara mcwade


When it comes to the films of Woody Allen, you'll know your feelings before you've even walked in. His latest work, and due to the upsurge in reporting on the allegations of sexual assault of a minor against him, likely to be one of his last, features Allen's attempt to create a film that emulates the classics of American stage drama. The film references, and goes as far as to quote, Eugene O'Neill, the famed American playwright, and seems to be operating in the mode of a Tennesse Williams play. The script feels like it's trying to be a "classic" tragedy - Allen even has his stand-in character, played by Justin Timberlake's best impression of Allen himself, reference the classic structure of a hero destroyed by their fatal flaw. There's nothing wrong with this approach - but when meshed with the style and dialogue of Woody Allen, you're left with a mess of a plot that resides somewhere between pastiche and obviousness.

There is an attempt to paint this almost as an intentionally stilted homage - Timberlake's Mickey is a playwright moonlighting as a lifeguard. Obsessed with making his own American classic, he confesses a flair for melodrama. This apparent sense of self-awareness, one propagated by Allen's style, seems at odds with the required subtlety of the American drama. Characters often speak their minds quite literally with inane dialogue - Kate Winslet's lead likes to tell us repeatedly that she is "only playing the role of the waitress", and at one points exclaims that her "heart is pounding with jealousy". It's plot is a field of clichés. Winslet plays a failed actress, mourning a lost love, and dealing with a disturbed, pyromaniac child from that marriage. JT is her sexy lifeguard fantasy man, promising to sweep her off her feet and let her leave her failed marriage to a wooden Jim Belushi's Humpty, a dirty, loud-mouthed, recovering alcoholic. Juno Temple rounds out the cast as the other child from a previous marriage, as Humpty's estranged daughter on the run from her mobbed-up ex-husband. And, of course, who does she fall for but Timberlake himself - this intergenerational love quadrangle is the core of the film's plot, as the characters declare their various loves for each other in surprisingly ineloquent ways. The cast give what they can to breathe life into the script, but even they can't save Allen's uncharacteristic clunker.

The film's one unique element, and it's saving grace, is it's setting. New York's Coney Island of the fifties. It's a beautifully realised setting filled with elaborate details. The titular Wonder Wheel, and the apparently world-famous rollercoaster the Cyclone, lurk over the domestic drama, viewable from their apartment windows. The lighting, too, is beautiful - while obvious, the poetically enhanced blues and reds shade the wonderfully acted, devastatingly dry monologues that pepper the play. The film is consistently beautiful, points must be given to Allen's cinematographer, Vittorio Storano, who elegantly captures the red hues on Kate Winslet's silhouette against the metal beams of the rides. At least you have something pretty to stay awake for, because God, you'll want to sleep through it otherwise.