Starring: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 101 mins
Wonder Wheel is an American film about a family living on Coney Island at the height of its popularity in the 1950s whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a visitor, and the presence of a young man working as a lifeguard on the nearby beach.
As we’ve seen over the years (and particularly recently), Woody Allen’s films can be really hit or miss. Although there are few real duds, compared with gems like Annie Hall, Manhattan and Blue Jasmine, there are many of his movies that just don’t impress on the same level. Wonder Wheel is somewhere in the middle, far from his worst work, but still not quite up to the standard that has made him such a legend of cinema.
Throughout, Wonder Wheel is full of riveting emotional conflict, as well as an intriguing portrayal of mid-life crises, with Kate Winslet’s character taking centre stage in thrilling fashion. The problem is, however, that the story fails to provide a consistently engrossing watch, with focus switching awkwardly between the various characters, and not knowing its own strengths enough to really make things work.
Let’s start on the bright side, however, with the film’s most interesting side, that is, the crisis that Kate Winslet’s character faces as she finds herself in a frustrated marriage. From the beginning, her character’s stress is immediately apparent, constantly bombarded by the incessant noise of Coney Island, and now burdened with the arrival of her husband’s daughter, who brings all sorts of trouble with her.
That is the perfect setup for an enthralling display as she attempts to keep her head, further tempted away by the arrival of a dashing young lifeguard on the scene, with the pressure bubbling as the film goes on, and her internal growing and growing, something that I was absolutely enthralled by, furthered by Winslet’s excellent performance that combines her natural ability with a striking level of maturity and assurance that helps her to own the entire film.
That’s by far the best thing about Wonder Wheel, and when we’re focusing on Winslet’s character, it’s a truly engrossing watch. However, the biggest problem is that there are a few more characters around whose stories just don’t feature the same intrigue and drama. Of course, you need the other characters to make that central story work so well, but I felt that too much focus was put onto other sides of the story – particularly that of the daughter’s arrival back home and all the trouble she brings – meaning that the opportunity for more intrigue was really lost.
Particularly towards the film’s final act, things become far less interesting, as focus shifts away from Winslet’s character for longer periods (even though her own story becomes more and more riveting and unpredictable), and makes for somewhat of a disappointing end to the film.
Woody Allen does a good job at directing the film with energy and elegance throughout, and it’s by far his most visually striking film since the likes of Midnight In Paris and Blue Jasmine, moving away from that rather repetitive and less-than-stellar vibe of his last few films that makes them feel almost straight-to-DVD.
Overall, I did like Wonder Wheel, largely due to the intrigue and drama provided by its central story and Kate Winslet’s performance, however it just doesn’t give due focus to the best part of the story, instead proving a rather frustrating and ultimately underwhelming watch as focus shifts away from the most riveting side of the movie, which is why I’m giving it a 7.5.