There is a slight hint that the film ’s central character is Woody Allen when the voiceover narrative claims to be a budding playwright, Mickey (Justin Timberlake), who later has an affair with a married woman, Ginny (Kate Winslet) but after falls in love with her step daughter (Juno Temple).
WONDER WHEEL is set in the Coney Island of the 50’s. The film opens impressively with a panoramic shot of the beach filled with swimmers and sunbathers, all in the 50’s swimming garb. The film then moves on to the main characters.
The two main characters in the Woody Allen story are the writer Mickey and Ginny caught in a loveless marriage with Humpty (Jim Belushi).
If the characters feel close to home, Mickey is Woody Allen the writer and Ginny the actress Mia Farrow. Allen and Farrow were married and in love before Farrow brought him and adopted Soon-Yi, the Carolina character. (Allen is now married to Soon-Yi with two children.) Just as Mickey ditches Ginny and falls for Carolina, Allen did the same thing. There is an odd feeling that Allen is trying to gain acceptance in the Mickey character for all his past deed. Art copies life instead of imitating it.
In an interview with Woody Allen, Allen claims all his movies are based on the same identical premise, a cheating male who looks for better and younger sexual fulfillment. At first glance, one would think that the character is now female, with Ginny intent of leaving her husband for the younger, attractive lifeguard, Mickey. Upon closer examination, one finds that it is still the male, Mickey who is dissatisfied with the older Ginny and leaves her for Carolina.
Allen’s films are getting more serious lately and WONDER WHEEL is one of his most serious of his recent works. The humour is less prevalent and at times more subtile. Carolina’s father describes the daughter’s gangster husband at one point after she declared that she and loved him: “He was not even good-looking.” That is the film’s funniest joke.
WONDER WHEEL contains the traits of the Allen films, first and foremost being the stunning choreography by an Award Winning cinematographer, this film done by three-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro (THE LAST EMPEROR, REDS and APOCALYPSE NOW) who uses shifting blues and golds, often reflected on the characters’ faces from the revolving
Wonder Wheel ride outside the apartment window. Falling in love while being drenched in the rain (ANNIE HALL and many other Allen films) is also typically found in many of Allen’s films as in this one.
Allen often elicits superior performances from his all-star cast, many winning Oscars in his previous films (Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Diane Keaton to name a few). Kate Winslet and Belushi deliver standout performances here while Timberlake shows too, that he can carry a movie on his own.
The subplot of Ginny’s troubled pre-teen son (Jack Gore) from her first marriage is an odd one. He is obsessed with setting up fires for no apparent reason. The jokes on the uselessness of psychiatrists appear the only reason that subplot is in the film.
WONDER WHEEL can be considered a disturbing film, being one that reflects too closely on Allen’s life – unless one wishes to dismiss the coincidences. It is nevertheless, a well-made film well acted and executed that Allen needed to make to exorcise his demons.