Woody Allen has always been hit and miss. His one movie a year schedule allowed him to keep working consistently, and even if he lobbed a dud, he kept costs down so they’d at least break even. Perhaps working with Amazon has removed even the minimum standard for Allen. It doesn’t even have to break even anymore. He’s subsidized by the streaming service. Wonder Wheel technically has a beginning, middle and end, so it’s truly the bare minimum.
Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up at her estranged father Humpty (Jim Belushi)’s house. Humpty’s new wife Ginny (Kate Winslet) convinces him to make up and let Carolina hide from her gangster husband. There are no laughs while Wonder Wheel introduces all of these characters. In fact, it’s halfway through the movie before you realize Ginny is the main character, because she’s had such sporadic screen time and focus.
Ginny begins an affair with Coney Island lifeguard Mickey Ruben (Justin Timberlake), who is the narrator for no reason at all. 90% of the movie are scenes Mickey wasn’t there for, and his own perspective adds nothing. Eventually, it’s a love triangle with Carolina, and Ginny begins to unravel.
There’s nothing inherently funny about this situation, yet the characters are too caricatured to take seriously. Belushi is chewing gum and talking out of the side of his mouth. Isn’t he so old school blue collar? Humpty maintains the Coney Island merry-go-round, but not the Wonder Wheel.
Winslet gets frantic, trying to Cate Blanchett this without the material of Blue Jasmine. When she gets jealous of Carolina it feels desperate and pathetic. At one point she says, “I’ve become consumed with jealousy.” Was that dummy text that Allen forgot to change? It sounds like the line in The Room where Lisa’s friend says, “Your point of view is so different from mine.” That’s technically what you’re trying to say but not how anybody ever says it.
I made up some jokes and made my colleague laugh during Wonder Wheel. Once when Ginny lies about her age, I referenced a horror movie where Bai Ling claims to be “pushing 30.” And when another character disavows something I quoted Homer Simpson’s “and we never did.” HOW AM I FUNNIER THAN WOODY ALLEN?
There are some aesthetically pleasing lighting designs that only point out that the characters aren’t saying anything of substance while the light shines on them. Several moments have the light on Winslet or Temple change color, but it sure would be great if the scene had some actual drama or comedy.
Wonder Wheel makes Magic in the Moonlight look like Manhattan. I hated Celebrity, Scoop and Curse of the Jade Scorpion but I don’t remember being this angry coming out of them. The best thing to come out of Wonder Wheel will be that RAINN is getting a donation. I’m inspired by Griffin Newman to donate my pay for this review like he did his acting salary on the next Allen film, and also confirm it is his worst film.