Directed by: Woody Allen | 101 minutes | drama | Actors: Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Jack Gore, Tony Sirico, Steve Schirripa, John Doumanian, Tom Guiry, Max Casella, Gregory Dann, Bobby Slayton, Michael Zegarski, Geneva Carr, Robert C. Cirk, Tommy Nohilly, Ed Jewett, Debi Mazar, Danielle Ferland, Maddie Corman, David Krumholtz, Jacob Berger, Jenna Stern, Michael Striano, John Mainieri
In “Wonder Wheel” we are presented with a beautiful portrait of a hopeless life on Coney Island in the 1950s. Once an actress with potential, Ginny (Kate Winslet) is stranded as a waitress and unhappily married. The forty is panting in her neck, her ten-year-old son is a starting arsonist and her husband an ex-drunkard with loose hands. When Carolina, her husband’s daughter, asks for shelter with them because she is on the run from her mafioso ex-husband, the house is too small. When the significantly younger, but oh so romantic lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake) takes an interest in Ginny, there seems to be hope. But Carolina has also noticed the dreamy lifeguard …
As we are used to from director Woody Allen, we see in “Wonder Wheel” a beautifully designed vicious circle. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more awkward, annoying or tragic for the layered characters, he takes it one step further. The cleverly written drama is painful, but also gets something comical because of the amount. This gives a nice balanced and poignant effect to look at. In addition, “Wonder Wheel” stands out for its wonderful use of light. In the scenes, Coney Island’s neon signs provide the actors’ penetrating faces with beautifully colored light. In some dramatic moments (sometimes even in one monologue) those lights can also suddenly fade and make room for the very cold and gray light of the painful reality. Together with the wonderfully dry (and typically Woody Allen) jazz music, this creates beautiful atmospheres.
With a star cast like this one, you also expect some craft play. Besides that this expectation is more than fulfilled, Kate Winslet really deserves some extra tribute for this great achievement. She knows how to make the pain of her character tangible, but not to push it in your face. She switches effortlessly from an emotionally empty look, to moments where she jumps from one subject to another due to too many emotions and violent migraines that her character is struggling with. She dares to show the ugliness of her character in a way that you as a viewer still love her.
“Wonder Wheel” is a great piece of film with painful dialogues, characters who show their ugliest true side and situations that go from bad to worse. This in combination with beautiful environments and the neon lights-filled piers of Coney Island creates beautiful counter colors and an intriguing whole.