Chew's Reviews - Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel

By Gary Chew | December 10, 2017 |  

Open Friday, December 15 | 

It's rumored that Woody Allen has made at least 65 motion pictures. Wow. Not only that but The Wood Man hit the 82 year mark on the first day of this final month in 2017. Holy Toledo, he's a geezer! But Allen still has “young man” imaginings in his head. How could that come as any surprise?

Indeed, Wonder Wheel is pretty much your basic Woody Allen picture. I hasten to add though, that's not a reason to miss it … unless you don't want to be entertained yet again by Allen's comic vision known so well for focusing on the exigencies of the human condition - especially regarding romantic love and infidelity.

What's different with Wonder Wheel is that his script pays all attention to those who populate greater Gotham without hardly a pot to peel potatoes in or a window through which to throw them out … uh, the peelings. Folks we've seen in Mr. Allen's oeuvre are, more often than not, rather well-off, erudite, modestly hip and hopelessly liberal.

Ginny and Humpty ain't got those traits. Ginny (Kate Winslet) and Humpty (Jim Belushi) are married. He has an adult daughter from his first marriage named Carolina (Juno Temple). Humpty has chosen to not see Carolina for several years due to her saying “I do” to a mobster. (I mention here that, for sure, Humpty isn't a very cool guy, but an honest one he is.)

The high strung Ginny is a not so very successful former actress who's now one of the most senior waitresses at the Coney Island Crab Shop, while Humpty is chief operator of the only carousel on the beach. They live in the neatest little second floor apartment you'd ever hope to see, right there along Coney Island. Their residence is just behind the big ferris wheel that sits in clear view between their eastward-looking windows and the Atlantic Ocean. Such a view.

Woody has predictably put a character in his story who works well as your basic, routine stand-in for Allen himself. He's much younger, of course, and probably more handsome; although Mickey-The-Life-Guard (Justin Timberlake) … I fear ... leans a tad more to the androgynous than say … any Alvy Singer or Leonard Zelig.

Carolina has found herself in a real fix. The FBI recently “leaned” on her to sing some songs about the bad things he estranged husband has done in his role as a thug. Two of her hubby's “associates” are frantically seeking Carolina's whereabouts to make sure she never does an encore. Need I say, she's fled to Coney seeking refuge at Daddy and Ginny's pad? They'll never find her there ... will they?

To put a lid on Carolina's singing reminds me to say that Allen brings our memories back to HBO's The Sopranos. The two “associates” after sweet Carolina are all too briefly done by Tony Sirico (aka Paulie) and Steve Schirripa (aka Bobby). Gulp!

You'll never guess that Humpty and Ginny are feeling strain within their marriage. Ginny, as Woody always has it, cheats on Humpty with the much younger Mickey … under the boardwalk, already. Yip, and besides loss of ardor so very common among the married, Ginny and Humpty are also conflicted over the fact that Carolina is now on the lam sequestered at their place when not waiting tables with her step mama at the Crab Shop.

Performances are terrific. Kate gives out with some great moments and Belushi really lays into the Humpty character; maybe almost a tad too much. But impressive he is. Here and there, he reminded me of John Goodman, but with fewer blue words to speak.

The younger cast members (Juno and Justin) are all in with their roles too. Timberlake is the one who takes on the erudition Allen usually lays into his scripts. Mickey considers himself a Romantic and soon to be significant writer of plays and novels. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Wheel spins down somewhat in its entertainment value when becoming progressively obvious the four main characters, in a preponderance of scenes, seem to never stop arguing. Argumentation can be funny, but there needs to be a break, now and then. Allen does break it up to some extent with his old, reliable sense of humor that always works for me when I see a movie with the The Wood Man's brand on it.

I did not, however, appreciate the way Wonder Wheel ended. Clearly, I can't say why … for you must see this beachfront slice of technicolor melodrama for yourself in order to make that assessment. Allen has closed out other films in much the same manner as this new one. I think he still knows (even at 82) what he's doing, although I was musing with a more dissimilar way to bring this sand-in-your-shoes carnival to a halt.

P.S. The story is set in the early 1950s. Oh yes … I remember them well; especially when I heard Jo Stafford singing “You Belong To Me” on the soundtrack. God, I loved that song when I was in junior high school.
Copyright © 2017 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved.  



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