Wonder Wheel: Woody Allen’s Overly Familiar, Second Rate Melodrama

Woody Allen’s new film, the melodrama Wonder Wheel, is a major disappointment, a minor film that–by now–he could have written and directed in his sleep.

Our grade: C+ (** out of ***** stars)

The great Kate Winslet, in her first collaboration with Allen, plays a variation of the dejected housewives that Mia Farrow embodied in the 1980s, when her offscreen relationship with the director somehow inspired him to make some of his best films.

The setting is familiar: the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s.  Allen has used this site to much better comedic effects in former pictures.

In this one, all the actors, not only Winslet, are underutilized (actually wasted), including Justin Timberlake and Jim Belushi.

Moving from one dull or uninvolving scene to another, the tale revolves around four characters—in search of a plot.

Their ordinary lives intertwine in what is presumably the hustle and bustle of Coney Island, but Allen is unable to portray vividly the peculiarities of this famous locale.

Winselt plays Ginny, an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a cheap clam house.  She is married (for the second time) to Humpty (Jim Belushi), a rough-hewn carousel operator.

Enter Justin Timberlake, young a handsome lifeguard who dreams of becoming a playwright.

The melodrama picks up some momentum with the arrival of Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment.

Beginning with the names of the characters, and continuing with their professions and personalities, all the film’s personas are overly familiar and second rate.

The best thing about the film is the warm and glowing cinematography of multiple Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro, which captures more dynamically than the narrative or dialogue the variegating moods of passion, violence, and betrayal that play out against the picturesque tableau of 1950s Coney Island.