Woody Allen's 49th film as director and I've managed to see every single one of them on the cinema screen. No. 50 (a neat number to retire on if he wished) 'A Rainy Day in New York', is in the bag awaiting release, but may now not be given a cinema screening, perhaps going straight to Netflix - all fallout in the light of comments made by some of that film's participants (as well as Kate Winslet's implied criticism of Allen regarding this current film) to the effect that because of abuse allegations which have now vastly tipped the balance against the director/writer, they would not consider working with him ever again. 'Wonder Wheel' has fared poorly at the U.S. box office, almost certainly as a consequence, and looks as though it will not do much better in the U.K. (I was one of an audience of just seven!)
Up to now I'd managed to keep these lurid stories of Allen's conduct at bay by giving him the benefit of the doubt in assuming that they could be no more than spiteful creations of an ever-vengeful Mia Farrow - but who knows?. However, they've now reached such a clamour that it's practically impossible to ignore them and, even if they have been totally fabricated, it very much looks as though Allen's reputation is for a long time going to be tainted by association with these allegations. Now at the age of 82, even if he had intended to make yet more films, Allen couldn't have achieved much more than he already has. Whenever he retires, be it now while all this ugly mess surrounds him, or if he indeed soldiers on, I can only maintain that he has given me more pleasure in toto than practically any other film director I could name. Out of his very substantial directing and writing output there are a mere handful of his films that I wouldn't care to see again, whilst many more than that number continue to reward me through multiple viewings. It's all turned so sad and regrettable.
'Wonder Wheel' is the name of the large Ferris Wheel which dominates the view from the Coney Island apartment in 1950 of married couple Kate Winslet and Jim Belushi and their 10-year old truant-playing, pyromanic son. Their marriage has gone off the boil - at least for her it has - she working as waitress at a clam-eatery while he takes care of a merry-go-round. His estranged mid-twenties daughter (Juno Temple) from a previous marriage unexpectedly turns up, having fled from having spent mad time with the 'mob' in New York, and they are now on the hunt for her.
Belushi is trying hard to stay on the wagon while migraine-complaining Winslet (she sometimes pronounces it 'my-graine', other times 'me-graine) is dissatisfied and bored with her hard-working life when she happens to meet a lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) on the beach - a few years younger than her, but a romance and affair develops. It's not very long before she finds that Belushi's daughter has, quite innocently, set a claim on the very same 'target', Winslet's jealousy at this discovery driving her to distraction.
There are 'holes' in this no-laughs film, which is a pity because I think the main strand, the Winslet-Timberlake affair and its subsequent direction, is very strong indeed. Trouble is that Kate Winslet knows how to act - she's an object lesson, in fact - and, seen beside her intensity and commitment, Timberlake looks like his acting is only one inch deep. Whereas she shows credible passion without going completely bonkers, as well as impressive subtlety, his performance looks as though he couldn't really care all that much. Moreover, I think it was a serious error to have given him the job of being the film's narrator, both as off-screen voice-over, but also (and unaccountably), sometimes on-screen and direct-to-camera. His character is essentially subservient to, and less interesting than, Winslet's, and he doesn't have the screen presence to carry off the narrator's storyteller function.
I'm also not sure about the kid making fires here and there in combustible areas, with (only potentially) catastrophic results. This seemed a needless distraction from the main storyline which didn't serve any useful purpose and didn't go anywhere.
The script was okay - if not really quite up there with Allen's very best, it's still far better than many are. Direction was also not bad at all. However, the colour photography is a marvel - one of Allen's best achievements in that field to date, and one of the big 'pluses' of this film.
It's a small cast with good acting - apart from the one exception - and with one stand-out part.
Will this be the last Woody Allen film we'll get to see on screen? I'm not giving up on #50 just yet - but if 'Wonder Wheel' really were to be his last to be seen by in this medium, he could have done worse - and, speaking for myself alone, I did come out from this one feeling quite satisfied................7.
53 minutes ago