Saturday, October 14, 2017

NYFF Spotlight: Wonder Wheel

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 15th.

Wonder Wheel
Directed by Woody Allen
NYFF Closing Night

Woody Allen makes a lot of movies. Since his directorial debut in 1966, four-time Oscar winner Allen has churned out an average of a film almost every year. Recently, he’s been met with success less and less frequently, releasing just three hits – “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Midnight in Paris,” and “Blue Jasmine” - in the past decade. There are certain staples in his films, beginning with a neurotic lead character whose perception of the world around them isn’t entirely accurate, and he spends more time in his native New York than anything else. His latest doesn’t always feel like an Allen production, but his mark is all over it.

Ginny (Kate Winslet) leads a less-than-exciting life as a waitress on Coney Island in the 1950s, married to alcoholic carousel operator Humpty (James Belushi) and raising a budding arsonist son from her first marriage. When Humpty’s adult daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up, on the run from her mobster husband, Ginny finds any aspirations for greater happiness she had put on hold, with her husband investing more in his daughter’s career rehabilitation. Ginny’s affair with lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake) serves as her only outlet, something she clings to for hopes of a better and more fulfilling life.

There’s no denying the instantly recognizable newer Allen archetype in Ginny, who constantly has a headache that never seems to go away and who makes grand speeches against things she didn’t like but never actually accepts productive suggested solutions. She’s most reminiscent of a more muted version of Cate Blanchett’s character from “Blue Jasmine,” though she advocates far less for herself and only occasionally lets those around her feel her true wrath since most of them are busy being angry enough on their own. The Coney Island setting makes sense for the “Annie Hall” auteur who claimed to have been brought up under a rollercoaster, and setting the film in the 1950s is a logical move given his recent forays into the past.

This marks the first collaboration for the four credited stars of this film with Allen, and each of them seems like a good fit to work with him. Belushi takes a backseat to Winslet since this is a more female-driven story, and Winslet delivers a fiercely committed performance (with one memorable scene in particular sure to be discussed) sure to drum up Oscar buzz, though it’s far from her best role. Temple is, as usual, wonderful, and it’s great to see making strong career decisions. Timberlake continues to diversify his acting choices, and he fits in just fine here, both with the script and the time period. As a film, there aren’t nearly enough instantly-classic insights delivered by any of the characters, and the story doesn’t resonate. This is far from Allen’s strongest film, offering a few funny lines but hardly a pleasant experience aside from that not removed enough to be considered an effective drama but instead an uneven effort.


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