A Well Shot, Well Acted Uninspiring Film
Set in the hedonistic, gorgeously vivid backdrop of 1950s Coney Island, Wonder Wheel is a well acted but flawed film exploring the often messy world of love and lust. Kate Winslet is exquisite as middle-aged Ginny (Kate Winslet) whom ends up entangled in a sordid affair but aside from her excellent acting, the whole film has an air of theatre to it, lacking the big screen presence needed to back up the excellent cinematography. For much of Wonder Wheel’s run time the narrative never really settles on a consistent theme and when the credits roll you’ll wonder what the point of any of this really was.
The film begins with Ginny and her second husband Humpty (Jim Belushi) living a mundane, wearisome life turned upside down when Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) bursts back into their lives. On the run from her ex gangster husband, Carolina puts a strain on the already fractured marriage that sees Ginny stumble upon charming lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake) whose wax lyrical demeanour toward the arts immediately captures her heart and the two end up in a sordid affair. What follows is a devastating tornado of lust, love, betrayal and envy as other characters become entangled in their secrecy and the whole thing threatens to explode.
The story itself is a little slow-paced too given the high stakes at play but it’s ultimately Kate Winslet that holds the entire picture together. Her performance as exasperated, middle-aged Ginny is outstanding and she elevates every scene she’s in. Her estranged husband Humpty does match her acting prowess to good effect for much of the picture but unfortunately the same can’t be said for Mickey who pales in comparison. Whether it be his exuding arrogance or the nonchalant way most lines are read, even during some of the more tense moments Timberlake looks unnatural alongside the excellent ensemble of actors.
Probably the best word to describe Wonder Wheel is uninspired. Everything here lacks any real pace and conviction making for quite the passive watch. It really does feel like you’re watching a theatrical performance for most of the run time and unlike 2017’s Fences which managed to get the balance between theatre and movie right, Wonder Wheel doesn’t quite muster up the strength needed to get us invested in the characters or give the narrative any sort of focus. The sporadically charged romance lacks the passion needed to convince of the perils involved in what’s happening too which certainly doesn’t help. Still, the film does have some decent moments and the clever use of colour seeing the vivid, bright colours slowly bleed out and replaced with a more consistent shade of grey and blue toward the end is a really nice touch. It’s done subtly too and difficult to spot but it just helps accentuate the great work put into the cinematography.
It’s a shame that the plot never quite matches the same energy and creative buzz evident in the technicality of the film. The explosion of colour early on matches the film’s enthusiasm and accompanied by a great performance by Kate Winslet certainly gives the film some early promise. Unfortunately the story lacks the cutting edge needed to elevate this one and the way Wonder Wheel presents its material in a theatrical, stage-play manner makes this more of a passive watch than it perhaps should be. Timberlake looks out of place here too and his character is arguably one of the worst parts of the film. With a lack of direction and no concise thematic message, Wonder Wheel happily spins through past its final act leaving you wondering what the point of any of this really was.