You probably missed your chance to see this movie in a theater. In my town, it lasted a week or so and, in the manner of movies today, was replaced by a similarly titled film called “Wonder.” Perhaps that is just as well.
“Wonder Wheel” is this year’s Woody Allen film. Like 2013’s well-received “Blue Jasmine,” it is about a woman whose life is falling apart, but with a lot more noise and action around the edges.
The setting is Coney Island in the 1950s, where Ginny (Kate Winslet) lives with her husband (Jim Belushi.) He operates the merry-go-round while Ginny waits tables at a tourist restaurant. The family ensemble is rounded out by Ginny’s son from her first marriage; all we learn about him is that he is 10 years old and a serial arsonist.
As usual, Woody Allen wrote the script here, and he gave Ginny’s husband an unusual name: Humpty. Given Allen’s history, the name suggests not Humpty Dumpty but Humbert Humbert, he of Nabokov’s “Lolita.” A little surprising.
Ginny busted up her first marriage by having an affair, and Humpty is loud but loyal. Still, she resents the loss of her early acting career and her family’s straitened circumstances. Now she is having an affair with a lifeguard/graduate student named Mickey (Justin Timberlake) who sees himself as a “future dramatist.”
Mickey also narrates the film, rather as Alvy Singer used to narrate earlier Woody Allen movies. Like Allen, Mickey’s a Manhattanite who seems to view working-class people with tumultuous lives as material for future playwriting efforts.
Into the family home comes Humpty’s beautiful 25-year-old daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple,) who has left her husband.
“Frank’s gonna kill me,” Carolina says tells her father.
“That’s what you get when you marry a gangster!” he remonstrates, but then he welcomes her home. Because, of course, no gangster would think to look for his estranged wife (and a person of interest to the FBI) at her father’s house.
Then Carolina meets Mickey, and they are attracted to each other.
Ginny figures this out, becomes jealous and reveals how much she has been counting on Mickey to rescue her from her disappointing life.
Eventually a couple bad guys wander into the picture. We can tell they’re mobsters because the same actors played lieutenants in Tony Soprano’s crew. This stirs the plot and leads to the conclusion.
Woody Allen has written and directed some fine movies, but this is not one of them. Maybe next year.
Some of the dialogue in this movie is pretty blah. Here are a few nuggets I jotted down.
— “More stuff is out of our control than we’d like to admit.”
— “I ruined my life by being unfaithful once, and now I’m doing it again.”
— “You have so much to give and no one to give it to.”
— “I have book knowledge, but you’ve really tasted life.”
— “I’ve become consumed with jealousy.”
— “Maybe you misread my body language.”