What it's about:
Four characters’ lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s: Ginny, a melancholy, emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam house; Humpty, Ginny’s rough-hewn carousel operator husband; Mickey, a handsome young lifeguard who dreams of becoming a playwright; and Carolina, Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment.
What we thought:
That moment when you go see a Woody Allen film without anticipating watching a Woody Allen film, and you heart just drops when you see his name in the opening credits. There’s perhaps two films of his that I enjoyed ever, but I personally can’t stand his neurosis that filters into all his films, infecting your watching pleasure like a virus. Wonder Wheel is another psychotic rollercoaster in, ironically, the amusement park of Coney Island, following the terribleness that is Kate Winslet’s character.
An unpleasant woman (Winslet) with an arsonist son (Jack Gore) and burly husband (Jim Belushi) find her life getting happier after starting an affair with a local lifeguard (Justin Timberlake), but everything soon starts to turn sour when he starts falling for her estranged stepdaughter (Juno Temple), on the run from her gangster husband.
Although the film’s narrator is the lifeguard, who likes to portray himself in this romantic light of poetic exaggeration, the story is really seen through the eyes of Winslet’s character, a woman constantly punishing herself for what she did to her previous husband while being at the same time a selfish person only focused on her own needs.
Basically, the same as every other tortured Woody Allen character who seems to balk at their existence on the screen. I do not understand why anyone finds this entertaining to watch, and why Woody Allen characters all take on that grating American accent he himself has. His twisted love triangle isn’t even scandalously appealing to experience, with the script forcing loverboy to abruptly change gear and pursue the stepdaughter because he finds her ‘interesting’.
The one aspect I did enjoy though was the setting, styling and cinematography. A 50s amusement park is quite a beautiful set-piece and everyone’s outfits and hair were lovely. Credit for making the film at least pretty to watch is warranted, although the obvious light changes to indicate the mood of the unfaithful wife were jarring, though subtlety was never Woody Allen’s strong point.
The only other two parts that also made it easier to watch was Timberlake and Temple, their youthful dispositions managing to overshadow some of the director’s psychosis. Although I enjoy watching Belushi throw things, him and Winslet did not pair off well, with Winslet failing to really find chemistry with any of the cast members. Even her fire-happy son was this weird tag-on that had zero relevance to anything else happening in the script, and without him may have helped slightly to unburden this drag of a film.
Wonder Wheel may be a pretty film, but underneath the glamour is a man that has no sense of what relationships are, and looks like he puts his actors through a lot of stress. Winslet even admits to LA Times that this was her second most stressful part ever, and this coming from the women who survived filming Titanic. By the end of the film she looks like she’s going to collapse into nerves, and it ain’t just acting. If you’re a Woody Allen fan, then go for it, but please take a moment to question whether you really like his style or just cause you’ve seen Blue Jasmine once and thought it was good.