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Review: Wonder Wheel (2017) 'Woody Allen's latest is not his best but Kate Winslet is fantastic'

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Joseph Friar

By Joseph Friar
Dec. 28, 2017 at 11:42 p.m.



Review: WONDER WHEEL (2017)

Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi, Max Casella, Brittini Schreiber, Geneva Carr, Tony Sirico, Steve Schirripa.

Directed by Woody Allen 

Without missing a beat, Woody Allen has managed to churn out a new film each year since 1982.  Wonder Wheel is no Blue Jasmine but it’s also not the worst film by far from the 82-year old writer-director.  Those expecting typical Allen fare will be put off by the discontented storyline, this is not a comedy, and it plays more like a vehicle built for the stage, but the fiery performance by Kate Winslet propels the film out of mediocrity.  Once again, Winslet is at the top of her game.   

The bustling seaside resort of Coney Island in the 1950’s is where we find the unhappy and alcoholic Ginny (Kate Winslet), a former actress-singer who now waits tables at the local clam bar.  Her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi), a recovering alcoholic, operates the carousel at the amusement park known for the famous attraction that gives the film its title.    

Both Ginny and Humpty have kids from a previous marriage.  Richie (Jack Gore) is the pyromaniac adolescent son of Ginny who lives with the couple and Carolina (Juno Temple) is Humpty’s estranged daughter who married a mobster named Angelo (Tony Sirico).  She hasn’t seen her father in over five years because of his objection to her marriage. 

Winslet is fantastic as the 40-year old depressed wife whose marriage is stuck in the doldrums.  Humpty’s idea of showing her a good time is a fishing trip with the boys, although he means well and doesn’t know any better.  Meanwhile, her son Richie continues to stir up trouble by committing arson every chance he gets.  Ginny’s only escape from reality is the liquor bottle she keeps hidden away inside the kitchen cabinet and out of Humpty’s sight.  At this stage in life Ginny has become a narcissistic battle-ax and Winslet has the character down to a T.  23-years ago the actress made her film debut as Juliet in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures and since then we’ve watched her go from playing teenage sweetheart Rose in Titanic to the mature and revengeful Tilly in 2015’s The Dressmaker.  Allen sought Winslet out for Wonder Wheel because he knew she would be perfect for the role and she is the driving force behind the film.  

The action picks up once Ginny begins having an affair with the self-absorbed lifeguard Mickey, played by Justin Timberlake, who dreams of one day becoming a playwright.  He becomes infatuated with the older and married Ginny and she sees Mickey as her ticket out of a loveless marriage.  There’s just one snag.  Out of the blue Caroline shows up to reconcile with Humpty while fleeing from her gangster husband Angelo and Mickey begins to flirt with her unaware that she’s Ginny’s stepdaughter. 

Allen is such an established filmmaker that its impossible to take any one of his films at face value without comparing them to Annie Hall or Manhattan.  Much like Cate Blanchett’s stand out performance in Blue Jasmine, Winslet dominates Wonder Wheel, unfortunately the source material is not up to par with Jasmine.  Also, I got the impression that I was watching a stage play rather than a film thanks to the dialogue-heavy script.  Parts of Wonder Wheel feel like rehashed Allen but once again cinematographer Vittorio Storaro provides the audience with plenty of eye candy and Kate Winslet turns out another remarkable performance. 

(3 stars)

Now playing at the River Oaks in Houston.  

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