Wonder Wheel – Film Review by Pia Maltri
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Stars: Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Robert C. Kirk
For fifty years Woody Allen has been telling us the same story but somehow he makes us want to keep listening to it. Human beings are led by their passions and desires, and because of them do inconvenient – often immoral – things. Reason and morals are only feeble guiding lights, progressively fading into the fog. In his fantasy world, there is no justice nor punishment, as the guilty always get away with their “misdemeanors”.
Wonder wheel’s plot is openly clichéd but that’s not what matters here. What Allen wants is only to demonstrate his hedonistic theorems to us once again.
The story is set in the fifties. Ginny (Kate Winslet), a failed actress, is married without love to Humpty (Jim Belushi). They live in an amusement park on Coney Island that Humpty runs and where Ginny works as a waitress. Ginny has a young son from a previous marriage, Richie (Jack Gore), who has pyromaniac tendencies and starts to get psychiatric help. Mickey (Justin Timberlake), Ginny’s younger lover, is a lifeguard and an aspiring playwright. When Humpty’s long-estranged beautiful daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) enters the scene by seeking shelter from her gangster husband, things take a predictable turn.
Once more, in Allen’s world, there’s not much space for depth and commitment, and the irresistible lure of youth and innocence is a blast that knocks down anything in its wake. When Ginny turns forty, she calls it a “tombstone” instead of a “milestone”. Her age irrevocably condemns all of her dreams. Kate Winslet is a marvellous actress and predictably delivers on her role of the quintessential woman; but she doesn’t shine more in the movie than when she declaims her final speech dressed in an outfit from her long gone actress days, à la “Sunset Boulevard”. Somewhat ironically, though, who steals the show is Juno Temple, deftly portraying the naive temptress.
Allen shows us life as an amusement park, like the one that stunningly opens the movie and remains the visual background – and metaphorical anchor – of the story: full of colours, people and… attractions. It’s a Ferris wheel, a wonder wheel, thrilling and fun but also vertiginous and scary once you reach the top.
Vittorio Storaro’s luscious cinematography knowingly intoxicates us with a kaleidoscopic, deeply saturated palette and warm light. The camerawork is full of close-ups, to direct our attention where the true story lies: all in the head.
Dismissing this movie on the basis of a plain and predictable screenplay is a bit like dismissing a silent movie for the absence of words. I’ll say it once again: cinema is about images, not words. As long as those images are meaningfully and pregnantly beautiful (much like in a good painting) and can do all the talking, that is good cinema to me.