9th March 2018 (UK)
On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator, his beleaguered wife, and the visitor who turns their lives upside-down.
Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake
When Carolina (Juno Temple) turns up unexpectedly at Coney Island where her father Harold (Jim Belushi) works as a carousel operator claiming to be in trouble with gangsters, he takes her in for her safety. Harold’s wife Ginny (Kate Winslet) is less than pleased, both with the situation and her general home life and by chance meets Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard at the beach. This begins an affair between the two, which Ginny sees as a way out of her loveless marriage. Trouble really starts though when Carolina and Mickey pursue a relationship of their own, as both women pursue the same man.
Beginning unconventionally with Timberlake speaking to the audience directly, Wonder Wheel’s tone is more in line with a theatrical production than a feature film. Constant fourth wall breaking, confined sets which look to be built within a studio and unnatural methods of dialogue delivery, it certainly wouldn’t look out of place on Broadway.
Wonder Wheel surely is eye-catching though. The colours are strikingly vibrant and Allen has captured an immaculate snapshot of Coney Island in its heyday. The wheel dominates every scene it is in and the fair itself plus the fun that it offers is an obvious contrast to the reality and misery of the life of the workers who we follow. Lighting plays a major part too, as Allen and Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro use the changing colours of the rides to illuminate characters faces depending on what mood they are in or how they are feeling, with one scene between Winslet and Temple being an absolute pleasure to watch unfold simply because of the lighting effects.
But underneath its flashy neon exterior, Wonder Wheel creaks. Allen’s script doesn’t allow us to grow to like any of these people, even when there’s flashes of opportunity for it. Winslet’s performance is by far the strongest as she borders on being desperately lonely and smitten in love but it comes across as a little psychotic by the end of the picture, although I assume this is intentional. Jim Belushi as the drunkard Harold works well with Winslet but never pushes past the stereotypical 50s vest wearing wifebeater. Timberlake’s Micky is wholly unlikeable as the self-absorbed lifeguard who breaks more hearts than he saves, while Juno Temple is largely forgettable as the doe-eyed bride to a gangster.
It’s far from Allen’s best work but at 82 years old, Wonder Wheel’s sumptuous visuals proves he still has an eye for style. Like a freshly painted vintage fairground attraction, paying for admission to Wonder Wheel will guarantee great views and a conventional if not slightly bumpy ride.
Fantastic recreation of 1950s Coney Island
Every character is unlikable