Wonder Wheel (2017)
We open up on Coney Island in the 1950s. The beach is packed with people enjoying their time in the sand. We learn that our narrator is a lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) who is working the summer before going back to grad school. The lifeguard wants to be a playwright who ‘relishes melodrama with larger than life characters.’
We see Carolina (Juno Temple), a young woman walking on the boardwalk with a suitcase in her hand. She asks a ticket taker where her father, Humpty (Jim Belushi) works. He tells her that Humpty works the carousel, but he has the night shift tonight. She asks if he knows where Humpty lives and he tells her that Humpty’s wife Ginny (Kate Winslet) works at a restaurant just down the road. Carolina walks into the restaurant and talks with Ginny, who is surprised to see her. They discuss how upset Humpty will be to see her. Carolina tells Ginny she has no other place to go. We find out Humpty was married to Carolina’s mother before she died. Ginny and Carolina head for Ginny and Humpty’s apartment. We learn that they had to move from their last place in New Jersey because Humpty got drunk and busted up the lobby.
They enter the apartment, and we learn that Ginny has a child from her first marriage. The child is in trouble at school. Ginny heads to the sink and pulls a liquor bottle out from under the sink and takes a drink to help with her migraine. Humpty comes in all happy because he caught a lot of fish today. He sees Carolina in the apartment and asks what is she doing here. Humpty gets mad and tries to throw Carolina out, but Carolina explains that she is on the run from the mob that her husband works for. She is a marked woman and needs a place to hide from her husband who wants to kill her. Ginny wants Carolina gone because she worries about the safety of her kid. Humpty asks for alcohol and Ginny refuses to give him any. Carolina tells Ginny that she went to the police and ‘told them too much, that’s the problem.’ Humpty realizes that Ginny is probably safe on Coney Island because Ginny’s husband knows that Humpty told Carolina that he never wanted to see her again after she married the mobster. Humpty decides that Carolina is going to stay with them. It’s a decision that will change all of their lives, even the lifeguard.
Woody Allen used to be creative and a marvelous storyteller. That’s in the past as Wonder Wheel is slow, predictable and full of unlikeable characters that talk for minutes at a time spewing regrets about their lives. He gives us reasons for why these characters have ended up where there are, but we have very little empathy for them because they are so miserable. The only likable character is Carolina who is probably going to end up dead, if she is found by the mob. The characters are so broadly built it feels like a work of Eugene O’Neill or Tennessee Williams wannabe, possibly foreshadowing what type of writer the lifeguard will turn out to be. The dialogue is clunky and feels forced, wasting the talents of Kate Winslet.
Winslet is given the most screen time as her character starts an affair Mickey, the lifeguard. It’s a role that should have showcased Winslet’s acting talent, but all we get out of her part is that Woody Allen hated her character, making Winslet the cause of everything that happens in the film. It’s a thankless part, and Winslet seems to know it, showing it in her performance. The script asks Jim Belushi to do things he is just not capable of doing, making his character seem shallow and underdeveloped. I usually like Justin Timberlake on screen but I never really bought his performance of the Mickey, the lifeguard. Timberlake looks uncomfortable on screen. I did enjoy the performance of Juno Temple, as the woman on the run who wants to start her life over. Temple has a nice presence on the screen, and it makes her character (the only one I cared about in the film) seem likable and warm almost right from the start.
Wonder Wheel never gets off the ground as the dialogue brings the film to too many screeching halts. It’s as if the carousel of this film had too many parts that were not working, the film itself has the same problem, too many characters that just don’t work on screen. My Rating: Cable
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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