Wednesday 21 November 2018

Wonder Wheel

It's a shame that this latest Woody Allen film got such a poor reception as I think that it has much more to offer than reviewers would have you believe.
Whilst I hold my hands up to my love of all his films, I do acknowledge that yes, this isn't his best work. But if I can be this creative in my 80's, I'll be more than happy. Many 80 year olds don't remember what they had for breakfast, let alone create, write, produce and direct a feature film! Allen continues his collaboration with Amazon Studios after the quite superb Crisis in Six Scenes mini-series in 2016. In that work, Allen drew out the talents of Miley Cyrus and she performed the radical beautifully. This time, he's focused on the ability of the very experienced Kate Winslet as his leading lady and Boy Band flop-cum-actor Justin Timberlake.

The story, in usual Allen fashion, is an observation of relationships between people and how, by poor choices made by many of them, chaos ensues! Ginny is married to Humpty but is having an affair with local lifeguard Mickey. She has a small son (from a previous marriage to a jazz drummer, when she was trying to be an actress) who sets fire to things for fun. Humpty has a daughter from a previous marriage who turns up out of the blue after five years, having fallen foul of her gangster husband. Initially distraught by the previous let down, Humpty then welcomes and protects her prioritising her over all else. She, Carolina, by chance, hooks up with her dad's wife's lover lifeguard who's thinking that he'd rather be with a younger girl than the older Ginny. Ginny finds out of course, can't say anything, and heads into downward spiral as she can only watch the mayhem getting irrational, madder and madder! The price of desire, love, lust, and deceit becomes depression, alcoholism and unhappiness. Unless - there's a way out! Hope you're keeping up!

As you can see, it's a right mix-up! The set is Coney Island in the 1950's where the family live in an apartment on the fairground, an unused previous attraction! When he's not fishing or gambling, husband works maintaining the rides in the fair and wife's a waitress in the cafe. They are making ends meet, just, when the daughter turns up and becomes a financial burden, unfairly in Ginny's eyes. She wants what money they have for psychiatry for her son, not keeping his daughter from being murdered by the mob, who she's grassed up and is on the run from!

Kate Winslet (Titanic, Contagion, Quills) plays Ginny, who holds it all in her hands. She does this superbly well as an actress leading the cast, if not as a character! This doesn't stretch her at all really - the closest she gets to that is when she's with Mickey and he's clearly getting interested in Humpty's daughter. As the tension grows, the closer she gets to performing as we know she can. Mickey is played by child-star Justin Timberlake (The Social Network, Friends with Benefits) and also provides as the ad-hoc narrator doing the fourth-wall thing which Allen loves to use. He does alright in this light role, but I don't really see a great actor in him yet.

St Trinian's girl Juno Temple (The Other Boleyn Girl, Atonement) plays Carolina and I think is underused by Allen in the storyline in lieu of Winslet's screen-time. I would like to have seen her character develop more and as an actress she looks like she has much more to give. She does a good enough job for the time she has but hopefully Allen will give her a more meaty role next time out.

John's brother (I bet he hates that!) Jim Belushi (Twin Peaks, Red Heat) takes the other leading role as the vest-wearing slob husband with tendencies towards booze and violence which Allen writes in perfectly. Where there's a working class troglodyte family involved, there's always one of these characters and Belushi carries it off formulaically. The only other main player is the pyromaniac brat Richie and he doesn't really have any dialogue much, so could have been pretty much played by anyone his age.

This is not really a comedy, though there are comic bits in it via observational stuff. It's not been written as a string of one-liners, which we know Allen can also do, but as a drama with a dark edge, a comic edge, an emotional undertone and as a vehicle for a glimpse into 1950's New York at the beach, which is clearly a reflection of his own experience. The sets are impeccably put together, the costume and design spot on and the atmosphere of that setting and time is beautifully created by all the above and excellent direction and camerawork. As usual, the soundtrack and tunes are well chosen with a leaning towards swing, big band and jazz.

As I said at the outset, this is far from Woody Allen's greatest moment, but it certainly is interesting and a drama well worth seeing if not for anything else, then the muted performance of Winslet. Even muted, she executes a commanding performance. Highly recommended.

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