Filmmaker and acclaimed director Woody Allen takes us to Coney Island in the 1950’s in his new crime drama Wonder Wheel, where a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his melodramatic wife.
With the opening shot the viewer immediately gets drawn into a visually saturated and colour-struck world of Coney Island, New York in the 1950’s. This must be Allen’s most beautifully crafted work when it comes to styling and art direction. The film is narrated by the local summer lifeguard, played by Justin Timberlake, and very early in the film we are also introduced to Kate Winslet’s character Ginny — the very melodramatic wife of a carousel operator. Her character soon becomes very annoying, but intentionally — a result of Winslet portraying exactly what director Allen wanted to. He wanted you to become so annoyed with her that you later start classifying her as an antagonist in this film. In other words, if you like her character or not, naggy and annoying, Winslet does a great job of playing her role.
If you are familiar with Allen’s work, you will know he likes to just tell stories: human stories of life, love, and sometimes loss. There won’t always be a big plot twist, climax, or some crime, but that said, there is still a strong plot. Wonder Wheel has a great amount of depth in both the emotion that the film carries as well as the writing. The whole film basically takes place in Coney Island, set against a brightly lit and noisy amusement park during the summer months. It is not that often that we still see films made that is set in the 50’s, and Allen portrayed the era with its styles, movements, and fashions, perfectly.
Overall this is a good drama containing both thrilling and romantic elements to draw the viewer in. Unfortunately, similar to some of Allen’s other films, the film has a very slow pace — sometimes somewhat too slow — and starts losing the viewer’s attention, despite the beautifully crafted world he created. Ginny’s demented son (from her first marriage) and his habit of starting random fires, is a quirky little twist to the film which adds some light subtext to the overall film. I would actually have liked to see him feature a bit more and be more of a contribution to the ruling plot.
This is definitely a theatrical script, with a lot of references to theatre and playwright in the film itself. Ginny is an ex-stage actress herself, and overruling themes of broken marriages, dysfunctional families, the sadness of aging and envy prevail. There are some comical moments but the film definitely ends up very strongly as a melancholic drama.
To sum up: if like me, you are and always have been a fan of Woody Allen’s work, you’ll have a strong appreciation for this film and it is highly recommended. Do keep in mind the slow pace of the film and use this as an opportunity for date night movie instead of just quickly wanting to slip into the cinema for a budget Tuesday film during your lunch break. However, if you are still on a high from the Blade Runner 2049 or Baby Driver, I’d say rather give this one a skip. That said, massive respect should be given to the 82 year old filmmaker for still crafting such a beautiful motion picture at his age.
Wonder Wheel is directed by Woody Allen, and stars Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Jim Belushi and Juno Temple. It opens in South African cinemas on 22 December 2017.