Review: Wonder Wheel

Score: C-

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

“Oh, spare me the bad drama.”

If I just wanted to be snarky, I could just end my review right there, with a quote from Kate Winslet late in the film. Because that’s pretty much all there is to say about the latest film from Woody Allen. It has a few funny moments, but doesn’t want to commit in being a comedy. And it’s nowhere near compelling or believable enough to be a gripping drama. All the elements are there, yet this is as hollow as independent movies get.

Kate Winslet plays Ginny, a deeply dissatisfied housewife and waitress. She lives on Coney Island with her pyromaniac son (Jack Gore) and her abusive second husband Humpty (Jim Belushi). Their smile-until-they-get-through-the-day existence is interrupted early on when Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up, on the run from her mobster husband.

All the stress sends Ginny into the arms of Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a pretentious lifeguard who lives in Greenwich Village and dreams of being a playwright. There is compelling drama to be had in a lonely housewife seeking solace in an equally adrift younger man (as seen in films like The Graduate and Winslet’s own Little Children), but their emotional impetus for being together never seems believable.

Ginny reaches a boiling point when Mickey starts dating Carolina. Her pure jealousy is mostly unfounded, since Carolina is one of the rare truly decent characters in Woody Allen’s filmography. Sure, she’s a terrible waitress and a bit of a flirt, but her heart is always in the right place.

At this point, every conversation becomes repetitive, just louder, as characters relate their feelings to one another, just more aggressively. The main quartet are all good actors, at least when given good material, but they all strike out here, which is a feat I almost have to admire.

Just like the film is torn between whether to be a comedy or a drama (and failing at both), it’s also at odds visually. The cinematography from three-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro is gorgeous, yet the film spends most of its time on a single set. At times it feels like this was originally conceived as a play.

Wonder Wheel is yet another miss from a once-great filmmaker whose batting average gets worse every year. There have been a lot of movies with "wonder" in the title this year, but Hollywood saved the worst for last.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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