Friday, December 15, 2017

Wonder Wheel

Falling neither at the top nor bottom of the Woody Allen scale, the writer/director's latest fits somewhere in the middle. Set in Coney Island during the 1950s, Wonder Wheel tells the story of a distraught waitress (Kate Winslet) cheating on her husband (Jim Belushi) with a lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) with delusions of becoming a great writer. Matters are complicated by the arrival of her husband's daughter (Juno Temple) from a previous marriage, on-the-run from her gangster husband, who also catches the lifeguard's eye, and our waitress' arson-loving preteen son (Jack Gore) setting fire to everything he can find.

Winslet is the ensemble stand-out of the piece as a middle-aged woman determined that her affair lead her out of the mess her life has become. Other than the fact that he's the outsider to the family, Timberlake turns out to be an odd choice for narrator. Winslet, Temple, or even Belushi (who is almost too convincing as the prototypical bad drunk with a temper) would seem to offer a better insight into the story. In the end, Winslet's perfomance and the setting of a 50s Coney Island help make up for some of the film's shortcomings (including an opening act better suited to a stage performance).

Given how much time is spent setting up Belushi's drinking problem and the kid's arson fetish, I was surprised to see neither plot thread ever pay off in terms of the larger story. Temple doesn't bring much to the page, but her character is so thinly-written with a grand backstory but little going on on-screen it's hard to fault her. If the film has a major fault it's in suggesting better storylines for nearly every character we see on-screen. As for Timberlake, despite lacking Woody Allen's trademark ticks, he's a standard lead complete with spouting grand ideas without actually ever offering much insight. It's easy to see why he's drawn to both women whose lives are far richer than his own.

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