At certain points, relationships can develop their own momentum, careening headlong towards affirmation or collapse. And heaven help anybody trying to stall the inevitable, put the brakes on or turn “The Wheel.”
Albee and Walker are hurtling towards the abyss when we meet them in Steve Pink and screenwriter Trent Aktinson’s intimate indie dramedy. Or rather she is. Walker (Taylor Gray) is grasping at straws, dragging Albee (Amber Midthunder) out for a romantic weekend getaway at an AirBnB. Albee is resigned to “this sh—y thing” she’s agreed to do, and she never lets him or us forget it.
Walker has this plan, consult a self-help book he picked up for little or nothing — “Seven Questions to Save Your Marriage.” They’ll spend a weekend, “four questions today, three on Sunday,” and sort things out.
Question one? “What was the first thing that drew you to me?”
They’re very young, their hostess Carly (Bethany Anne Lind) notices. And yet they’ve been married eight years.
“We were 16,” Walker blurts. “It was Texas.”
Maybe they’ll hit that Ferris wheel they drove by on the way up, Albee tells Carly, “if we’re not divorced.”
They’re both given to blurting.
“The Wheel” is about that marriage about to break up, and co-owners Carly and Ben (Nelson Lee), who are about to marry, trying to intervene. Well, she wants to intervene. He’s picked up on toxic Albee acting like “a monster.”
“Maybe they’re not supposed to be together,” he reasons. “She doesn’t need help. She needs an exorcist!”
“Bad relationships are contagious,” he adds as a warning.
Over the course of the weekend, both couples will be tested. Revelations will explain characters — some more than others — the marriage and the desperate way it began. And we watch and shake our heads and wonder if this plunge over a cliff can be averted, or even should be.
The intimacy of this movie seems to raise the personal stakes among the four. Aussie TV writer Atkinson makes up our minds for us about this character or that one, and then upends those formed opinions.
Midthunder (TV’s “Roswell”), affecting a sort of cruel-cloying Aubrey Plaza vibe, is perfectly believable as a 24 year-old aspiring actress out to sabotage this marriage, come hell or high water. Gray (“Walt Before Mickey”) comes off as that all-in very young guy who can’t imagine life without Albee, mainly because he has no perspective.
Prospects don’t look good, and seeing the waves Albee makes in the about-to-marry couple, we don’t dare hope for any sort of happy ending for “The Wheel.” With this cleverly unassuming script, anything could happen, no matter where the momentum is taking them and us.
Rating: unrated, profanity
Cast: Amber Midthunder, Taylor Gray, Bethany Anne Lind and Nelson Lee.
Credits: Directed by Steve Pink, scripted by Trent Atkinson. A Quiver release.
Running time: 1:23