Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wonder Wheel

WONDER WHEEL               D                           
USA  (101 mi)  2017 d:  Woody Allen                 Wonderwheelmovie - Official site

Wow!  What an epic misfire.  Most have probably never seen a Woody Allen film that falls this far off the rails, unfunny and unchallenging, on the wrong footing from the very start, as it feels completely miscast, where viewers recognize the neurotic voice of Woody Allen in the narration, but don’t associate those words and thoughts with any of these actors, as the dialogue is simply not interchangeable.  Allen speaks with a pronounced ethnic Jewishness, which has always been a reference point in his films, but here the constant nagging tone is all wrong, as its Borscht Belt humor is carried out by Gentile actors, where the result is simply not the same, as the actors go through the motions but lack any hint of comedy or vaudeville humor, turning this into an agonizing dramatic misadventure with pretensions to Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill, the great American playwrights, but without the depth and complexity, falling enormously short.  Framed as a Eugene O’Neill dysfunctional family set in the 50’s, where everything that can go wrong does, set entirely within the raucous confines of an overcrowded Coney Island amusement park, even the living quarters, intermixed with elements of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a spinoff apparently from 2013 Top Ten List #7 Blue Jasmine, it features an ongoing narration by a family outsider, Justin Timberlake as Mickey (normally a decent actor, but he’s all wrong as the voice of Woody Allen), an aspiring playwright who also works as a Coney Island lifeguard, who never once is seen rescuing a swimmer in distress.  Instead he intervenes in places where he shouldn’t, basically playing the field, fostering the hopes and dreams of two very different women.  First is Ginny (Kate Winslet), an emotionally-charged older waitess in an oyster bar who finds herself lost in a Blanche Dubois delirium, continually going on emotionally distraught monologues complaining of migraines and overwork, where her every last nerve is being tested.  She is a former actress whose career was derailed by a momentary lapse of judgement when she cheated on her husband, an anonymous jazz drummer who consequently left her, forever blaming herself for that mistake, sending her on an alcohol-fueled bender, leaving her with an emotionally damaged son (Jack Gore as Richie) who is clearly affected by his father’s absence, turning into a serial pyromaniac, lighting fires whenever the feeling hits him, which happens to be several times a day.  Finding a fellow alcoholic on the rebound, Ginny re-marries her current husband, a blue-collar carousel operator named Humpty, Jim Belushi, who spends the entire film doing his best Stanley Kowalski impression.  Into their lives walks Carolina (Juno Temple), the second woman, Humpty’s long-lost daughter who got herself involved with a dreamy young mob gangster with pockets full of cash, actually spilling the beans to the feds, where she’s now on the run with the mob looking for her, with shades of Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose (1984).  This is a film where the sins of the parents are handed down to their own children, each an emotional basket case of frazzled nerve endings.

There isn’t a single likable character in this film, much of which is ugly and overwrought, delving into the ongoing personal insecurities and fears of people with barely enough money to scrape by, who constantly harp at one another for the choices they make, as they’re stuck in a rut that they can’t get out of, mostly feeling like caged animals.  Ginny is a whirlwind of fluctuating moods, much of it delusional, where she constantly thinks of no one but herself, growing hysterical when she thinks it’s all too much, with a claustrophobic world closing in on her, giving her no room to breathe, where she hasn’t an ounce of so-called freedom, literally suffocating before our eyes.  Humpty is a loud and blustery character who’s little more than a blowhard, all bark and no bite, that is since Ginny has removed alcohol from his daily regimen, keeping him off the sauce, as he grows brutally violent when drunk, though when times get rough, she takes a swig from a bottle she keeps hidden underneath the sink.  Timberlake’s confessional, on-going narration couldn’t be more off-putting, as it’s completely out of synch with the rest of the picture, where he’s more of a con man than he lets on, always shrouded in innocence, yet he’s a snake in the grass, never being honest with the audience, where the entire film feels like a rationalization for womanizing, yet he’s constantly being judgmental towards others without ever pointing the finger at himself.  At the center of the film is Ginny’s guilt, as she’s forever blaming herself for the pit she’s fallen into, stuck like a trapped insect, unable to pull her way out, as her husband has no ambition, leaving her having to pull the entire weight.  That heavy burden is constantly hovering over her, like a dark cloud, relentless and debilitating, as she’s been sucked into a life she hates, where everyone in it literally disgusts her, including herself, where her son’s constant obsession with setting fires is actually more of an irritation, as she never comes to grips with it, but simply blames him each and every time, having yet another panic attack.  For his part, Richie is cool with all the attention it provides, never fearing the consequences of getting caught, thinking so what, as it doesn’t hinder his actions, simply doing what he wants whenever he wants, with no interference.  From Ginny’s point of view, this is total bliss, as it’s unlimited freedom, exactly what’s missing in her overly constricted life, where she’s suffocating and can’t breathe, drowning in a life of squalor with a man she probably doesn’t even like, much less respect, but she sticks around as he rescued her from her prior emotional downfall.   

With a constantly repetitive jazz retro soundtrack that continuously plays the same song on repeat, feeling like a recurring headache after a while, the film is shot by veteran cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who creates a mosaic of constantly shifting light and color, especially faces, where a palette of artificiality bathes the screen throughout.  Enter Mickey, who offers Ginny a doorway out, having an affair that couldn’t come at a better time, where she goes all in, like water gushing out of a broken dam, becoming an unstoppable force.  While liking the attention of an older woman and all the associating drama, which he thinks will be excellent material for his plays, Mickey remains more coy about his motives, taking it slower, enjoying the ride, not turning it into such a big deal, which is what she does at every opportunity, constantly reminding him, where he’s her lifeline to a way out.  But Carolina’s youth and good looks complicate the status quo, perking up his antennae, as she’s not like other girls in the neighborhood, having traveled around the world in luxury and style, literally blowing him away, falling for her in spite of himself.  Knowing how this would crush Jenny, he does it anyway, even if it goes against all rationale of good sense, as Carolina is the forbidden fruit.  Of course he does this behind Ginny’s back, never letting on, pretending like nothing’s happening when he knows full well there’s a spark, which changes the dynamic with Ginny, who knows something’s up, but Mickey turns into another good-for-nothing man who deceives her, unable to trust the whole lot of them, turning against all men in the process, spiraling even more out of control, taking refuge in the bottle, with Humpty eventually joining in, becoming the picture of a pathetic drama without an ounce of humanity on display, where instead it’s all bluster.  The male characters are deplorable, every one a sleaze, while the women at least fare better in their scenes together, but in the end Allen’s grim and overly fatalistic view taints all.  With mob heavies Tony Sirico and Steven Schirripa from The Sopranos on Carolina’s tail, she is dangerous merchandise, making her all the more enticing to a young unattached male like Mickey, who seems to have his own issues with illusions, where he’s like a deer in the headlights, hypnotized by her allure, unable to help himself, striking while the iron is hot.  The stage is set for a final showdown with Ginny, but like Blanche, she’s already lost in the cobwebs of her own delusions, barely recognizable as a person, losing every last trace of her dignity, where it all derails into a tailspin of unfiltered torment, each little bit only adding to the collective hell of having to endure more, wiping out any hint of reality, where all that’s left is a waking nightmare that never ends, where she can’t ever wake up, stuck in an endless Sisyphean death spiral of human misery and suffocation, becoming all-consuming, like a fever dream.  Lost in the haze, the film is back where it starts, mired in that sinking feeling of utter futility.  Spare us the drama, Woody, as behind the curtain, nothing is real.  

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