Director: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Cast: Kate Winslet, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, James Belushi
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/20/17
Opens: December 1, 2017
Location is a major character in Woody Allen’s pictures, and the great director often uses different time periods in the same way that “Boardwalk Empire” used the 1920s for Atlantic City. So let me tell you something about Brooklyn’s Coney Island, where Woody Allen’s 45th movie takes place In 1950. Coney Island was going to seed. In fact I can’t remember a time that the place was anything but. However when I was a kid, a year younger than Woody Allen, my friends and I would go to Coney almost every weekend, usually to use the crowded beach. People of different groups stayed in the “Bay” on the beach with others of their age. Vendors would trod the sands like nomads on the Sahara, offering ice cream pops and hot dogs. My mother would give me one dollar for the afternoon: ten cents for the round trip on the subway, fifteen cents for a hot dog at Nathan’s, another fifteen for the French fries, and the rest to splurge at Steeplechase where the wonder wheel and roller coaster were the big sellers.
Everything in “Wonder Wheel” takes place in the shadow of the eponymous ride, and I can’t imagine how Allen arranged for hundreds of extras to lie on the beach, but with modern cinematography just about anything is possible. “Wonder Wheel” is partly a crime drama, partly a look at a dysfunctional family. There are genuinely comic moments throughout especially whenever Jim Belushi rants and raves. The focus is principally on Kate Winslet in the role of Ginny, and almost needless to say she’s as wonderful as the wheel that goes round and round a hundred meters or so from her.
The story opens on the pretty Carolina (Juno Temple), who is on the run from a gang intent on cutting her life short at her tender 26 years. Some gangsters and maybe even her criminal husband think she knows too much and she’s too likely to “sing,” so she returns to her father Humpty’s (Jim Belushi) seedy flat, trying to reconcile with him as they had no contact for the last five years. Ginny (Kate Winslet), her stepmom, is maintaining a loveless marriage to the rather large and tantrum-friendly husband, so forty-year-old Ginny, who wanted to be an actress but settled for being a waitress in a clam house, is delighted to begin an affair with a handsome young lifeguard, Mickey (Justin Timberlake). Trouble brews when Mickey seems to prefer Carolina. As Ginny realizes the power of her competition, she may no longer be worried that mobsters are after Carolina.
Woody Allen’s theatrical script, which drops names like Eugene O’Neill, Hamlet, and Oedipus, wrestles with serious themes: marriage and the family; the sadness of aging; mind-boggling envy; but he does this with a lighter touch than what inspired him in some previous serious dramas. All the funny parts fade away during its shattering ending, probably to go down as one of the most emotional finales of 2017. In the last few moments, Kate Winslet delivers a poignant monologue that might be felt full of frustration that could be felt by other women when they reach middle age, or for that matter like all middle-aged folks when they see youth pounding on the door.
Woody Allen’s 45th, then, may not be “Annie Hall,” his masterpiece, but it sure as hell is not “Bananas.” While it’s true that no-one can deliver like Kate Winslet for the eighty-one year old director who has knocked out a film almost every year, but Allen is working with a terrific ensemble; one in the role of a pretty young woman who gave up her chances when she married a thug; another as a lifeguard who has eyes for the forty-year-old until she meets her stepdaughter; a third as a frustrated ex-drunk who at first wants to kick her daughter out until he bonds with her; last and best a woman who has just crossed over into middle age and whose tragedy is that her big dream of romance with a younger man may be nothing more than fantasy.
Rated PG-13. 101 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+