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Wonder Wheel

Movie Information

The Story: A failed actress in a loveless marriage finds excitement in a summer fling, something that's complicated with the arrival of her husband's daughter. The Lowdown: An aggressively melodramatic picture that's watchable, but mostly only for Woody Allen die-hards.
Score:

Genre: Melodrama
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi, Jack Gore
Rated: NR

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I have long been a fan of Woody Allen’s films and — I must admit — an apologist for his lesser works. I’ve always managed to find a nugget of value in even his shoddier films, an amount of entertainment or at least a few scenes or jokes that stuck with me. But he’s very much a filmmaker far past his prime, who’s frankly making (or perhaps made) too many films. His yearly release means throwing a lot of macaroni against the fridge — sometimes it’ll stick, but a lot of times, it won’t. This hit me pretty square with last year’s Cafe Society, the first Allen movie I just couldn’t finish watching due to its rambling, seemingly pointless nature.

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Allen’s latest, Wonder Wheel, is at least watchable (I mean, I finished it, if nothing more), though still very minor in the scheme of things. It’s little more than half-baked melodrama, though that’s acknowledged in Mickey’s (Justin Timberlake) opening monologue. This is basically an exercise in Allen channeling Eugene O’Neill, fashioning a family soap opera on top of pathos, anxiety and a touch of tragedy and it’s all played that way, too. Despite Vittorio Storaro’s colorful photography and a camera that moves around a good bit for an Allen movie, there’s still something that feels a bit too stagebound about it all.

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The biggest contributor is the overcooked performances that feel as if they’re from a stage production. Everyone’s playing to the back row. While it fits the mood of the film and its 1950s Coney Island vibe — or at least, what someone might nostalgically view of ’50s Coney Island as being — it’s not a particularly natural-feeling film, and it’s not an Allen comedy. So what’s left is the melodrama, which isn’t quite enough (or entertaining enough) to hold up the film on its own.

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The film follows Ginny, a failed actress who works at a Coney Island restaurant, living with her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), and her pyromaniac son (Jack Gore). Thrown into the mix is Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) — who’s on the run from her mob boss husband — and Mickey, a lifeguard with romantic aspirations of becoming a playwright and who falls into an affair with Ginny. Things grow from this in convoluted, yet none too surprising ways, all for maximum melodrama.

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As a whole, it all works, at least from the standpoint of being watchable. But the tenor and the tone of the film (such as the overacting) is something that takes a bit of getting used to, or an amount of openness toward. Basically, it’s another Woody Allen film for the die-hard Woody Allen fan, the latest in a long line that’s lasted a few years now, and the type of moviegoer I’m not sure exists in great numbers these days. Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse.

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