Woody Allen's latest film is told from the point of view of a male character, played by Justin Timberlake, who is romantically involved simultaneously with both a woman (Kate Winslet) and her stepdaughter (Juno Temple). Yes, he went there.
Luckily, for those who struggle with the judge-the-art-separately-from-the-artist thing, "Wonder Wheel" won't be keeping anyone up at night. It's just a bad movie; a flat melodrama in which some lovely camerawork and a ferocious central performance from Winslet can't conceal the rote tiredness of it all.
Taking place in 1950s Coney Island, "Wonder Wheel" is the story of Ginny (Winslet), a clam-house waitress unhappily married to the boorish Humpty (Jim Belushi), and if you're hoping that Timberlake's character is named Dumpty, you're already demonstrating more wit than this film does. (Spoiler alert: he isn't.) Ginny meets Mickey (Timberlake), a handsome lifeguard who's "going for my master's in European drama," and things soon get all hot under the pier, which is not a metaphor. Enter Carolina (Temple), Humpty's long-estranged and quite lovely daughter, who's fleeing some tiresome mobsters. Trouble, predictably, ensues.
If she were surrounded by a better movie, there'd be much to talk about in Winslet's performance: how her voice gets subtly, endearingly higher during a drunk scene; how you can see hope drain from her face as if a plug suddenly were pulled; how she valiantly almost sells a line like, "I hate it, this whole honky-tonk fairyland." But "Wonder Wheel" takes that performance and crushes it beneath its heavy-handed heel, until there's nothing left but memories of better Winslet roles -- and better Allen movies.
With Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Jack Gore, Max Casella, David Krumholtz.
Written and directed by Woody Allen.
Running time: 101 minutes.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking.
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