American films

Wonder Wheel film review: Winslet steals show in Woody Allen’s miserable ensemble piece

A typical Allen effort, Wonder Wheel revels in making the point that lives can turn out miserably in a story set around a 1950s amusement park starring Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple and Jim Belushi

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2018, 7:16pm

3.5/5 stars

If this does turn out to be the last Woody Allen film to receive a cinema release, it would not be the worst title for the publicly abandoned filmmaker to go out on. Wonder Wheel may be static and stagy – it unspools like a filmed play – but its desperate characters and overwhelming sense of fateful despair still make it a worthwhile entry in the prolific director’s canon.

Cinema generally likes to offer some hope to viewers by highlighting chances for redemption and redress. Wonder Wheel, however, dispenses with such gloss to make the difficult point that lives can turn out miserably, and will sometimes stay that way. The long, dialogue-heavy scenes here often remind of the plays of Tennessee Williams, with all the self-evisceration and self-deception those involve.

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Back in the 1950s, Ginny (Kate Winslet) lives in near poverty with the hardworking Humpty (Jim Belushi), who runs a carousel at the famed Coney Island amusement park. Ginny is having an affair with the dashingly intellectual lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake), and hopes he’ll take her away to a better life.

Then Humpty’s long-lost daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) turns up, and unknowingly becomes Ginny’s rival for Mickey’s affections. The situation is complicated by Carolina’s hoodlum ex-husband, who plans to have the girl killed.

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Allen offsets the film’s emotional brutality with some accented colours, courtesy of ace cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. Deep blue tints and orange hues break the realism to accentuate the character’s changing moods and, with the glorious Technicolor process in the outside scenes, add a destabilising tonality to the theme park.

A typical Allen ensemble piece, Wonder Wheel is nevertheless driven by a Blanche DuBois-like performance by Winslet, who dispenses with her feisty charm to essay a woman who knows that life has already passed her by. Everyone seems to relish the meaty lines they’ve been given, but it is Winslet’s film right up to the final boozy monologue that pretty much closes the show down.

Wonder Wheel opens on February 8

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