Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi, Max Casella, Jack Gore, David Krumholtz, Tony Sirico, Steve Schirripa
Written by: Woody Allen
Directed by: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking
Running Time: 101
Date: 12/01/2017

Wonder Wheel (2017)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Coney Island Baby

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Woody Allen once again hires the glorious cinematographer Vittorio Storaro — for the second time after Cafe Society (2016) — and Wonder Wheel is uniformly gorgeous, capturing a kind of summertime sunset glow at Coney Island in the 1950s. Although the characters talk about what a dump it is, it looks like heaven. Unfortunately, this visual glory is the movie's best asset. It plays like Interiors, September, Another Woman, and Blue Jasmine, in that it's a totally serious story with fine roles written for women. But this one just never seems to go very deep. Everything is here, and it's tighter than some of Allen's most recent films, but with no laughs to be had, it relies entirely on coaxing an emotional response. And there's just something a bit distant about all of it.

Kate Winslet is not the problem, though. She's excellent as Ginny, the unhappy wife of on-the-wagon Humpty (Jim Belushi), who works on the carousel and goes fishing on the side. She works in a clam house and tries to take care of her son from a previous marriage; he likes to start fires. (The movie has many of these fire sequences, but they don't seem to contribute to any kind of overall theme.) She meets the handsome lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake) and starts an affair. For some reason, Mickey narrates, claiming to be a playwright and warning us of lots of purple prose and deep emotions; this seems like more of an apology after the fact. Then, trouble starts when Humpty's daughter — also from a previous marriage — Carolina (Juno Temple) turns up. Characters fawn over how pretty she is. Mickey falls for her and Ginny gets jealous, but gangsters are after her. When they do show up, they're right out of The Sopranos (literally... they are played by Steve Schirripa and Tony Sirico). Everything hinges on a twist that, in something like Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, might have been profound, but now feels perfunctory.

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