Went to Coney Island and Man, We’re People Annoying.
It’s Coney Island in the 1950’s and there are a bunch of people who are just doing their best to get by, whatever the hell that even means. There’s Ginny (Kate Winslet), an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam house and yeah, she doesn’t quite like it. There’s Humpty (Jim Belushi), Ginny’s rough-hewn carousel operator husband who just wants the best for his family, even though he knows that’s easier said then done. There’s Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a handsome young lifeguard who dreams of becoming a playwright and instantly takes a liking to Ginny, despite her marital-status. And lastly, there’s Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment. Together, all four are just trying to get by, finding work, finding love, and oh yeah, finding a whole heck of a lot of issues along the way.
Wonder Wheel is, yet again, another one of Woody Allen’s less inspired efforts, although it does flirt with the idea of being something so much more and something so much better. And yet, it doesn’t. It sort of just sits there, stagnate, telling its story, its characters, conflicts, and just moving at its own even-pace. Which is odd, because Wonder Wheel is never all that funny to be a comedy, nor is it really all that sad or emotional to be considered a “drama”; it’s mostly just a bunch of dialogue, with bits that seem like comedy and drama, yet never reach that magnitude.
Which had me thinking, “Why doesn’t Woody Allen give television another try?”
I know that Crisis in Six Scenes was considered a bomb (though I didn’t mind it), but seriously, with so much TV out there that blurs the line between comedy and drama, there’s a part of me that wonders, with more time, effort, and care, Allen may be able to make a great TV show. Of course, though, you could say the same thing about the movies he makes, where each and everyone only takes a year to write, shoot, edit, and release, which is surprising for an 82-year-old man, but also obviously inconsistent. It’s almost as if every 7th flick or so from Allen is good, whereas all the others are just incredibly mediocre or fine.
And yes, Wonder Wheel is that movie where it seems like it Allen may have an inspired idea, but doesn’t really go there. He could have chosen to crack jokes about post-WWII America and the utter nostalgia that frames every inch of the beautifully-lit screen here, but instead, he settles for a story about four people, finding love and inspiration on Coney Island. If Allen actually cared, these characters would be compelling, but that’s the rub: It almost seems like he doesn’t. It’s as if everyone written here were already small sketches that he somehow got the green-light to make more of, but rather than working on said characters, he just continued to write more and more plot.
And it’s a bit of a sad affair that, without the actors in it, would have been terribly boring.
But it isn’t and that’s because the cast all come ready to play and give it their all. Kate Winslet is going way wacky and over-the-top here as Ginny, but the woman sells it because she’s funny, a little sad, and a little different from what we’re used to seeing from Woody Allen’s heroines. For one, she’s older and going after a younger man, so already, she’s a ground-breaker, but yeah, she’s also an enjoyable presence in the movie that I would have loved to have seen in another movie that cared more about her. Justin Timblerake is fine as the lifeguard that Ginny falls for and while a lot of people have been ragging on Timberlake’s performance here, he’s okay enough to where he handles himself well, even among the crowd of talented people he’s stuck with.
But really, my favorite is probably Jim Belushi as the depressed and rather upset husband of Ginny. This character is interesting in that we’ve seen Allen play with these sorts of characters and make them completely awful human beings (see Danny Aiello in the Purple Rose of Cairo), whereas Belushi’s role as the husband is a lot more sad and sympathetic. Usually, these characters are mean and cruel, but this guy seems like he just wants a little bit more love out of life, isn’t getting it, but isn’t going to give up, either. He’s the kind of character who I wanted to give a hug, too, but once again, Allen steps a bit shy of actually giving this character more to deal with. It’s mostly just Belushi doing all that he can and he makes it work.
Wish I could say that about the rest of the movie.
Consensus: Never quite settling on a tone, Wonder Wheel is another middling-effort from Woody Allen, who seems to get by with beautiful visuals, a nostalgic setting, and solid cast, but can’t quite get his scripts to work.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios