Wonder Wheel review – Kate Winslet manages to rise above yet another disappointment from Woody Allen

Wonder Wheel

Kate Winslet manages to rise above yet another disappointment from Woody Allen

It’s a difficult time in which to consider a new Woody Allen movie. Allen’s reputation as a human being is again under scrutiny, with his adopted daughter Dylan renewing allegations of sexual abuse, which he has denied. Here, one should only offer a reminder that Allen’s reputation as a filmmaker has been on the slide, unequivocally, for nigh on 20 years – with Blue Jasmine a rare pearl in a film-a-year factory line of mediocrity. Wonder Wheel is not one of the exceptions.

It’s set in Coney Island, in the 1950s. Kate Winslet plays Ginny, a waitress in a clam house, whose second husband ‘Humpty’ (Jim Belushi) operates the fairground carousel. They live in a ramshackle home near the boardwalk, with her pre-teen son, a budding pyromaniac. Ginny’s failed ambition as an actress only makes her humdrum life harder to bear, and she finds solace in an affair with the younger Mickey (an ill-cast Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard with his own pretensions – to be a writer. It’s a match made in self-delusion, until the arrival of Humpty’s estranged and alluring daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), who’s on the run from her gangster husband. As Carolina and Mickey fall for each other, Ginny loses the plot.

Given that Allen has written this for the screen, it’s odd how stagey it feels, visually and emotionally, as though he’s seeking a connection with, say, the great proletarian tragedies of Arthur Miller. Ace cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s lensing is sumptuous, and there’s a humid, slow-burn tension in the final reel. Yet the whole feels contrived, mannered and very, very routine – Allen again flogging his ironic predilection for mixing would-be creatives with criminals. The shame is that the film contains a superb performance by Winslet, whose depiction of a woman consumed by jealously and shattered dreams manages to reach tragic proportions.

General release from Fri 9 Mar.

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