Wonder Wheel Review – Visually Stunning, Woody Allen Captures Coney Island in its Glory Days

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Wonder Wheel, from Amazon Studios, presents Coney Island, circa 1950: a cornucopia of memories, summertime, carnival, amusement rides, boardwalk games, sun, sand, surf, Nathan’s famous hot dogs, a lifeguard, a summer romance, a carousel operator and his wife.

Directed and written by Woody Allen, Wonder Wheel, his 48th film, stars Justin Timberlake, Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple and Jack Gore, Debi Mazar, Tony Sirico, Steve Schirripa, Max Casella and David Krumholtz.  

Wonder Wheel begins with voice over by Mickey Rubin, the Lifeguard on Bay 7, played by Justin Timberlake, describing Coney Island. The backdrop is stunning as Allen has captured every nuance of Coney Island, with so much going on and catching your eye, what one can see another will miss. It’s a beautiful beginning.

As we hear Mickey, he is a budding playwright, a lost soul starring endlessly out into the void of the ocean for a moment of danger. Usually he sits, in the lifeguard chair, watching, waiting for danger.

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As he speaks, we see Carolina, played by Juno Temple, walk through the underground tunnel into the afternoon sun, emerging from darkness into the light she is on the run. She approaches Ginny, played by Kate Winslet, a waitress in the local clam house, asking for Humpty, played by Jim Belushi, and introduces herself as his estranged daughter.

Ginny explains the he sure will be surprised. Soon Humpty, who sometime drinker who has been sober for some time, as Ginny tries to continually encourage him and steer him clear of the bottle. He handles the reunion with his daughter without taking a drink, even as he pounds the counter top, huffing and puffing.

Soon we find out Ginny was married to the mob, and is now a marked woman. She is genuinely in fear for her life and without anywhere to go, no money, and no one to care for her, she ends up staying with her Dad and his new wife.

Not that the blood is bad, it’s 1950’s and not really the heyday of the mob either. However, as we find out Ginny and our Lifeguard are friendly, that is until he sees Carolina and for him, her need to be rescued was the beat his heart was waiting to hear.

In the middle of all the new drama we have the everyday drama of life on the Boardwalk. Ginny and Humpty live in an upstairs small apartment, barely enough room for the two, let alone anyone else. Carolina is the ingredient that causes everyone to unravel. And of course, we know it is not her, her presence essentially reveals everyone’s weak spot.

When Carolina left her bum of a husband she left with few possessions and many secrets, the kind that have caused many a man to sleep with the fishes. With the mob on her trail, we hope for her and love.

Wonder Wheel is magnificently done. There is an artistry, enticing from the beginning with the wide angle shot, from the ocean in with Coney Island, in all its glory, the heyday, the Parachute Drop, Dreamland Tower, the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel, the Eldorado Arcade all the sights and sounds of summer fun, that Allen has captured.

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Complimenting the carnival, of course are those who ensure others have great memories of the city escape. Our cast, each hiding something from someone. Its leveraging the secrets that puts our players in the funhouse of smoke and mirrors, hiding relationships, lovers, burdens, predilections, and of course simply hiding to stay alive.

While the cast is very extraordinary, I think Allen’s skill for the wide lens shot bringing the audience into the season, the time, the day, opening wide and narrowing, maintaining the same brilliant nostalgic feeling, as the scenes narrowed are on display in this film.

There are some issues in the story that are probably obvious as our main character is running from the mob one can expect violence. We don’t see that end, we do however see Ginny defending herself with a knife, which is the extent of the domestic violence.

However, Humpty’s bullying, his alcoholism, although his back is often to the camera, so one never quite sees him drinking, bellowing and abusive family relationships, a child who is a Firestarter, and while some will say a typical dysfunctional family, there are scenes depicting domestic violence, mental and physical violence.

The film is already an award winner as Kate Winslet won the Hollywood Actress Award presented by Hollywood Film Awards, on November 4, 2017, for her portrayal of Ginny.

Wonder Wheel is a visual delight, with an remarkable cast. The drama summarize a season in Allen’s life, even as it mixes fact with headlines.

Wonder Wheel opens December 1, 2017 in theaters everywhere. See it.


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