Image: Kate Winslet’s Ginny has jealousy written across her face as Timberlake and Temple’s characters come between her and her dreams © Property of Amazon Studios [Source: IMDB]
In true fashion for Woody Allen, this story follows his passion for melodramatic stories, as a Coney Island Lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) tells the tale of his love affair with a woman many years his senior (Kate Winslet) and the visitor who turns their lives upside down.
Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi [12A]
This is by all accounts a Woody Allen film, layered with the narrating guide, complex characters, love affairs, nostalgic vision and melodrama – Allen is back at it again with his usual form, but it’s certainly no Manhattan or Blue Jasmine. The nostalgic tone in which Allen tells this tale is wonderfully sweeping, the characters are fittingly complex but there is a lack of care given to the story. Evidently, the desired effect is a swooning melodrama but what disturbs this is the stilted and neck jerking dialogue. The witty, sharp and echoing notes from the likes of Annie Hall are all but forgotten, the dialogue is wooden, clunky and artificial, it all but puts the brakes on every performance in the film and the drama itself.
Performances neither fall flat or excel and only a few are even believable as people rather than characters, as they sound overplayed and over-written. Emotionally Wonder Wheel works for the most part but the characters feel forced, through the overwritten development of their stories and a side plot that never capitalizes on its own tension and barely begs interest, Wonder Wheel misses its melodramatic mark. The love affairs and jealousy can only hold interest for wavering periods and the fantastical setting of Coney Island barely warrants a footnote, Allen vastly underuses the setting of Coney Island as a backdrop but he does stage scenes with the same precision that is expected of him. Winslet also gives her all to her part, it gives her character and much of the story its honest and engrossing appeal and overshadows her co-stars, Temple never gets a moment in the limelight, Timberlake figuratively never leaves the water and Belushi is an overcooked caricature.
Wonder Wheel is however, surprisingly stylish, with enticing cinematography and a dapper soundtrack to boot. Allen’s nostalgia-driven vision for this piece shines in this regard, there is an old-world style of beauty about it, even incorporating older techniques of lighting as well as camera work, bringing to the forefront that this is a movie that was made, a way of filmmaking that is somewhat lost today in favor of all-encompassing plainness.
Wonder Wheel is an echo of Woody Allen’s filmmaking, it’s stylishly sharp, enticing and sweeping with a nostalgic flair that adds delight to the picture. However, the stunted and artificial dialogue pales to Allen’s former work and is uncharacteristically disruptive, damaging the performances, extensive melodrama and evocative storytelling. Wonder Wheel sits dismally in Allen’s impressive and vast body of work and is largely forgettable.