Wonder Wheel

Blunder reel

D o you suppose there’s a small amount of Woody Allen’s childhood he hasn’t yet explored on film? Currently, he’s back at Coney Island for the 47th time, shoving an unconvincing plot sideways through his memory hole. And while this film was as transparent as the uncurtained windows separating Ginny (Kate Winslet) and Humpty (Jim Belushi), yes, “Humpty,” from the boardwalk and the Wonder Wheel itself, it proved less a thrill ride and more an actor’s workshop. In fact, this film itself can behave as an amusement park barrier threshold for young actors: “You must be at least as moving as Justin Timberlake to ride this ride.” Fortunately for you kids, that threshold is mockingly easy to meet.

This Humpty doesn’t dance around any topic. After a tough day of sitting on a wall, er, fishing on a pier, Humpty Hump correctly identifies the stage direction requiring entrance. The daughter he disowned, Carolina (Juno Temple), has returned to the home of he and Ginny which causes all three people in the scene to go into acting mode, whether or not the scene required it. Humpty is an abusive recovering-alcoholic second husband for the overemotional Ginny, which is why she’s having an affair with local stool rescue monkey, Mickey (Timberlake). Meanwhile, Ginny’s son by first marriage Richie (Jack Gore) is a 12-year-old pyromaniac. And it’s set against the backdrop of an active amusement park. So you see, these folks have got a lot to act about.

Wonder Wheel wasn’t terribly kind to anyone in a relationship: Ginny is married to Humpty but wants Mickey. Humpty is dependent on Ginny but just as likely to beat her if he’s drunk. They’re both on marriage #2. Carolina just escaped her first husband, a mobster, and is technically hiding out. Mickey has never been married, and we’ll just see how long he can remain faithful to Ginny once he gets an eyeful of sweet Carolina. Richie only has a relationship with fire, but his burning love is eternally faithful. Yay, Richie?

The Coney Island setting was a mistake. Perhaps Woody was going for irony with a set of miserable saps contrasting a sea of thrill-seeking smiles. Why make this a strict drama? Doesn’t an amusement park naturally open itself up for, I dunno, amusement? And is Woody Allen confessing that he was an arsonist in his youth? My best guess is that Mr. Allen was trying to make an ironic statement about the elusive nature of long-term happiness in a place where short-term happiness is everywhere to be found. It doesn’t work. And the best reason it doesn’t work is that this film is very poorly directed. Nothing feels real in Wonder Wheel because I feel like I’m watching the filming of Wonder Wheel rather than the film itself. The cues are obvious; it feels like somebody adapted a play but forgot to do the adapting part. Even Kate Winslet can’t save that.

By my count, this is the fifth 2017 film with “Wonder” in the title (Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Wonder, Wonderstruck). Not sure if the most remarkable part of that statement is that none of the films were about a Cheshire Cat or a Red Queen.  I’m going to rank them most to least by how soon they will be forgotten by the general public:

Wonder Woman: March, 2047
Wonder: August, 2020
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women: General public, December 2018. Cult Fans, December 2028
Wonderstruck: August, 2018
Wonder Wheel: I’m sorry, what were we talking about again?

A tale of woe set against amusement park shtick
While it won’t make you nauseous or so very sick
This ain’t a wild ride or some kind of kick
You must be as tall as me to walk out of this flick

Rated PG-13, 101 Minutes
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Genre: Acting!
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Starving actors in search of monologues
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: Carnies

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