If I just wanted to be snarky, I could just end my review right there, with a quote from Kate Winslet late in the film. Because that’s pretty much all there is to say about the latest film from Woody Allen. It has a few funny moments, but doesn’t want to commit in being a comedy. And it’s nowhere near compelling or believable enough to be a gripping drama. All the elements are there, yet this is as hollow as independent movies get.
Kate Winslet plays Ginny, a deeply dissatisfied housewife and waitress. She lives on Coney Island with her pyromaniac son (Jack Gore) and her abusive second husband Humpty (Jim Belushi). Their smile-until-they-get-through-the-day existence is interrupted early on when Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up, on the run from her mobster husband.
All the stress sends Ginny into the arms of Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a pretentious lifeguard who lives in Greenwich Village and dreams of being a playwright. There is compelling drama to be had in a lonely housewife seeking solace in an equally adrift younger man (as seen in films like The Graduate and Winslet’s own Little Children), but their emotional impetus for being together never seems believable.
Ginny reaches a boiling point when Mickey starts dating Carolina. Her pure jealousy is mostly unfounded, since Carolina is one of the rare truly decent characters in Woody Allen’s filmography. Sure, she’s a terrible waitress and a bit of a flirt, but her heart is always in the right place.
At this point, every conversation becomes repetitive, just louder, as characters relate their feelings to one another, just more aggressively. The main quartet are all good actors, at least when given good material, but they all strike out here, which is a feat I almost have to admire.
Just like the film is torn between whether to be a comedy or a drama (and failing at both), it’s also at odds visually. The cinematography from three-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro is gorgeous, yet the film spends most of its time on a single set. At times it feels like this was originally conceived as a play.
Wonder Wheel is yet another miss from a once-great filmmaker whose batting average gets worse every year. There have been a lot of movies with "wonder" in the title this year, but Hollywood saved the worst for last.