Wonder Wheel Review
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There’s no filmmaker in Hollywood as prolific as Woody Allen, who hasn’t gone a year without releasing a new film since Gerald Ford was President. Some have been remarkable, while others have been forgettable—yet, every year, he shows up. Now he celebrates his 82nd birthday with the release of Wonder Wheel, another one of his nostalgic New York dramas.

Wonder Wheel is set against the colorful backdrop of 1950s Coney Island. Kate Winslet’s Ginny is a former actress who finds herself stuck waiting tables and living in an apartment in the middle of the amusement park with her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), and her troubled son. The only thing that gives her some hope is Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a wide-eyed lifeguard who dreams of being a playwright. The two begin an affair that’s the perfect escape for Ginny—until her stepdaughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), shows up at their door and shakes up their comfortably dysfunctional existence.

Allen isn’t just a prolific filmmaker; he’s also a gifted one. Some of his films are witty and thoughtful in his own chatty signature style. Others, however, are filled with unrealized potential. They’re the kind of films that you can see what was intended but just didn’t pan out. And Wonder Wheel is one of those films.

Set in the middle of the beloved beachside attraction, this Coney Island drama is bright and colorful and noisy, often lit by the ever-changing glow of carnival lights. It’s vibrant costumes and tinny music and red and blue illumination. It’s fantasy and summer romance to help the characters escape the heartbreak and disappointment of their real lives.

Unfortunately, though, the pieces just don’t come together in the way that they should. The dialogue often feels unnatural, resulting in characters who seem like they’re trying way too hard to be dramatic. Those characters, too, are extremely over-the-top. Belushi appears to be attempting to channel John Goodman in his role as Humpty—but, mostly, he just ends up yelling a lot. Winslet clearly tries to build on her character’s past as an actress by making her melodramatic—but she just comes off as erratic. But perhaps the worst fit is Timberlake, a lovable star who’s simply too smooth to play a character in a Woody Allen movie (and whose makeup looks every bit as smooth—and maybe a little bit plastic). Any attempts to make his character seem hesitant and insecure feel insincere—and his lengthy narration and monologues feel stilted and awkward.

Somewhere in here, there’s a thoughtful, artistic film—but with the overwritten dialogue and awkward performances, Wonder Wheel often feels more like mediocre community theater than an Oscar-worthy production. The good news, though, is that when one Woody Allen movie doesn’t really work, there’s always another one right around the corner.

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