Tragedy takes centre stage in Woody Allen’s new film which stars Kate Winslet as a bored and neurotic housewife in search for love and redemption.
Set in Coney Island in the 1950s, Wonder Wheel comes just under a year after the release of his last film Café Society and may well precede his upcoming romantic comedy A Rainy Day in New York unless, if rumours are to believed that film is shelved due to the controversies surrounding the veteran filmmaker’s personal life and the accusations that just won’t go away.
With similarities to Allen’s universally well-received film from five years ago Blue Jasmine,Wonder Wheel is as breathtaking in its cinematic beauty as it is clunky in its storytelling technique.
With true moments of genius lurking behind the usual verbose unrelenting neurosis, Wonder Wheel manages to be both compelling and slightly too melodramatic for it to be completely believable.
Ginny (Kate Winslet) is a former small-time actress just shy of 40 to whom life has dealt blow after blow. Now working in a Coney Island restaurant and living with an unruly pyromanic son Richie and husband Humpty (Jim Belushi), Ginny has come to hate everything about the place and feels suffocated by the constant noise surrounding her.
Things however start to look up when Ginny meets Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a handsome lifeguard who dreams of becoming a playwright (incidentally, Allen uses this character as a fourth wall breaking narrator at the beginning of each chapter). Soon Ginny feels a new lease of life as she falls head over heels for the much younger man, but her world comes crashing down with the arrival of her young and beautiful step-daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) who is on the run from her violent mobster husband who wants her dead.
The rest follows a sort of Tennessee Williams-esque narrative of inner turmoil and lengthy exchanges in which there’s much shouting, crying, pleading from Ginny who goes from a woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis to full blown neurosis in three acts.
With a commendable attention to detail in all aspects of the production design, Allen uses artifice and deliberate staginess to convey the melodrama taking place. A warm and sunny glow lingers across the film as lighting is also used to tell a story in which characters are literally inundated by an overbearing sunlight, which could perhaps be a signifier for the never-ending Coney Island summer.
Winslet is wonderful in her representation of a woman in throes of a nervous breakdown, whilst Timberlake does a great job as Mickey, even if he doesn’t quite manage to convey the real essence of his character.
British actress Juno Temple is fantastic in her representation of Carolina whom she plays with gusto and assuredness, whilst conveying a great deal of vulnerability. Temple is also able to inject a sense of fun to a character built for the sole purpose of unsettling our main protagonist.
All in all, Wonder Wheel may not be one of Allen’s greatest productions to date, but still manages to deliver on its initial premise even if it is eventually let down by an overly wordy and stagey dialogue. A decent, if not perfect offering from the hardest-working man in cinema.