Movie Review: Woody Waddles off into the Sunset with “Wonder Wheel”


So here’s where we are with regards to Woody Allen.

You’ve got the black screen, the white credits in what looks like Clarendon font.

There’s the scratchy record playing classic jazz, The Mills Brothers, in this case.

A “Who’s Who” blend of the hot and the offbeat make up the cast.

The words coming out of their mouths don’t sound like human conversation. Theatrical. A little Tennessee Williams, a lot Eugene O’Neill.

“I’ve become CONSUMED with jealousy!”

Long before the Allen surrogate fesses up to an O’Neill obsession, we’ve guessed that’s where he’s going with his latest, “Wonder Wheel.” Sure, there’s a disturbed, freckled redheaded kid who lives in the middle of the Coney Island amusement park, a favorite bit of fake Allen autobiography. But the kid is a tweenage pyromaniac, his mother’s pushing 40, an unhappy actress “playing the part” of a waitress at a clam restaurant.

Her second husband is a two-fisted drunk whose mob moll daughter is on the run, and comes to stay with them.

And there’s a narrator, that pretentious Would-be Woody, playing the Lothario (a lifeguard, in this case), leading on the mother in an affair not rendered less tawdry by their banter about “Hamlet,” Chekhov and “The Ice Man Cometh, toying with the step daughter and pontificating and self-justifying in some Woody-written-variation of his infamous “the heart wants what the heart wants” press conference confession of some decades back.

“The heart has its own hieroglyphics.”

Like too many Woody movies that preceded it.

Yes, he’s Big Game hunting with “Wonder Wheel,” a love triangle melodrama set in a stunningly-recreated Coney Island of 1953. He’s aiming for O’Neill in what can only be called Weak Woody/Cut-rate Eugene kitchen sink theatrics.

Justin Timberlake is Mickey, the narrator/hunk who tumbles with Ginny (Kate Winslet) and falls for stepdaughter Carolina (Juno Temple).

And if these ladies can afford it, they should both keep cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and his lighting crew on retainer for the rest of their careers. The honeyed glow of backlit sunsets frames them in most every scene. Winslet is getting Oscar buzz for this well-acted, over-written but perfectly photographed performance, and one suspects all that buzz is mostly from the look. The movie borders on abhorrent.

Jim Belushi has the Andrew Dice Clay role, a classic O’Neill drunk, a doting father and broken man almost-redeemed by a woman who will probably break him anew.



Timberlake, having the Cusack/Eisenberg/Jason Biggs role — Mickey — is given to letting a flirtatious Carolina off the hook for not having anything in common with him but good looks — “Ignorance is no sin. It just means your experience hasn’t brought you into contact with certain things.”

Winslet gets the big emotions, the big speeches describing broken dreams, broken promises and broken spirits. Yeah, she cheated on her creepy, indulged kid’s father, “a drummer whose rhythm pulsated with life.”

Unlike this stiff of a movie, whose every scene — even on the beach, under the boardwalk or on Staten Island’s Scholar’s (Chinese) Garden — feels as dusty and stagebound as that little speech.

Perhaps that’s where the future lies for the prolific and increasingly tone-deaf Allen — the New York stage. This might work better there, and would certainly confine his hit-or–miss-miss-miss-miss-miss scripts to the audience that hasn’t stopped adoring him, doddering director that he’s become, pedophilia accusations be damned.


MPAA Rating:PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking

Cast: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi

Credits:Written and directed by Woody Allen. An Amazon Studios release.

Running time: 1:41

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