Set in a post-WWII Coney Island that glows with the hues of popsicles at sunset, it's a strained adultery melodrama that appears to have been written poorly on objective, as a sour parody of 1950s theatrical clichés.
Justin Timberlake and his very bare legs play lifeguard and aspiring playwright Mickey, who has what he considers a summer fling with Ginny (Kate Winslet), a near-40 waitress in an unsatisfying second marriage.
But from opening frame to final credits, this is Winslet's movie, reminding both fans and late arrivals that the English-born actress has wowed us with tough-minded and tough-hearted characters in films from "Heavenly Creatures" for New Zealand's Peter Jackson to the heartbreaking love story of a former concentration camp guard who seduces a young German boy ("The Reader"), or as the girl who challenges her American lover to wipe his memory clean of their affair ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), or as the young Englishwoman who tragically loses her working-class lover to sea-going tragedy ("Titanic"). Soon the jealous Ginny is battling her step-daughter for Mickey's attention - and oh, and by the way, the unfaithful Ginny often accuses her husband of being unnaturally obsessed with his own daughter. Once more, he's inserted himself in the film via Mickey. The relationship is her way out.
In case that synopsis buried the lede, yes, you read that correctly: Woody Allen's new movie has a man rejecting a woman for her much younger stepdaughter.
Timberlake is the narrator, but he isn't the star. Humpty and Ginny bicker over money, over his alcoholism, over her son (from an earlier man), over his daughter (from an earlier woman), their scenes playing out like sped-up mid-century theater drama, all blue-collar bluntness and declamatory psychology.
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Maybe in Allen's world.
At first, Wonder Wheel might seem a sympathetic portrait of a woman the world doesn't listen to, a woman with the temerity to expect excitement in her life and bed as she approaches 40. Mickey begins to weave his tale about Ginny (Winslet), the wife of a carousel operator who finds renewed vigour in life after falling in love with the handsome NYC drama student and lifeguard. Enter Carolina (Juno Temple), a attractive blonde who has ditched her mobster husband and is now fleeing his goons.
Who Cares If I Liked It?. The choice to boycott, or at least to ignore, anything with his name attached seems perfectly sensible and legitimate.
The movie's 1950s setting might give one hope that Allen's interested in nostalgically exploring his own childhood, as he did so appealingly in 1987's Radio Days. What is he on about? Movie number 48, A Rainy Day in NY, is scheduled to open next year. Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person. This wasn't always true. She walks into the action directly underneath the sign illuminating the midway Ferris wheel: Wonder Wheel, it says in twinkling letters above her head. Winslet also confessed to being nervous enough about her American Brooklyn accent that she worked on it for three weeks to receive an Allen thumbs-up of "Nice job!" The line is one of many doosies that are uttered here. It might have been a stage play, but that wouldn't have saved it from feeling false. Ginny (Kate Winslet giving a terrific performance that nearly makes me forget The Mountain Between Us exists) is unhappy as the wife to Humpty (Saturday Night Live alumni and Chicago's own Jim Belushi), often neglected with references to physical abuse (although never depicted on-screen). Everyone from Jim Belushi to Kate Winslet appears to be delivering flashy performances created to garner awards consideration in a not-so-subtle way, as almost every scene from these two, in particular, are filled with over-the-top speech tones and flailing hand gestures.