Rated: PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 1, 2017 Released by: Amazon Studios
The fresh new face and writer of the (long ago) What's New Pussycat? (with rising stars Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole) doesn't make his latest very cinematically friendly.
Octogenarian Woody Allen seems to be channeling some of his past successes as well as Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill in his '1950s' Coney Island summer-set Wonder Wheel.
The line readings aren't very snappy in a script just fleetingly memorable, in part for a late monologue that brews the heart and mind of a character caught up in a delusional state, as well as selfishness and jealousy.
The rendition of a weather-worn setting and its tightly drawn interiors turns with more luster in the hands of designer Santo Loquasto and lenser Vittorio Storaro than almost everything else, played with wearying ominous dramaturgy than a signature spry wit laced with tragedy.
An unsettled blue-collar couple, Kate Winslet's Ginny and Jim Belushi's Humpty, the former an unhappy onetime actress now a clam shack waitress, and the latter a blustery, bullish carousel operator, are a part of the familial neuroses being quelled to a degree by liquor.
In this Brooklyn seaside milieu is a young son prone to pyromania, Humpty's estranged adult daughter, Caroline, as well as lifeguard and aspiring playwright Mickey. Like Justin Timberlake's narrating Mickey (a framing pawn in the form of another writer-director surrogate?) who isn't a very solid, but studied presence in Allen's hands. There is melodrama and a sense of larger-than-life which really isn't very reliable or winsome; kind of ambiguous and inaccurate in a way, cajoled by acting and infatuation.
A peculiar, but perilous love-triangle door is opened for what might seem off-putting, even for those unfamiliar with Allen's off-screen life with a wife once a partner's adopted daughter. Wonder Wheel matriculates mostly as a hackneyed ride with some appropriate jazz tunes and former Sopranos co-stars Steve Schirripa and the late Tony Sirico adding a little pop around the Caroline character.
This period Coney Island visit isn't one with much quirky wonder. But, Winslet is an ardent stand-out at times in Blanche DuBois mode (though not of the piquant distraught quality afforded by Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine). Even Belushi isn't half-bad as an adoring man on the sauce, and Juno Temple has more than a little charm to spare as the pretty mob-connected Caroline in a Wheel consumed by discord and rending not "sparing the bad drama."