December 11, 2017

Competing Reviews of Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel

08 December 2017, 06:39 | Elsie Buchanan

Dylan Farrow Asks: Why Has Woody Allen Been Spared By #MeToo?

Juno Temple in Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel.”

In nearly any other filmmaker's oeuvre, this film would be considered a highlight. One could say it's trashy fun, akin to a soap opera but with a top-notch writer and director, who may not be in his prime anymore, but here has made his best film since Blue Jasmine. It's right up there with "Melinda and Melinda" and "Scoop".

Production designer Santo Loquasto beautifully evokes a weather-beaten Coney Island, whose Ferris turns relentlessly but takes us nowhere - much like the film itself.

What you'll probably come out talking about are the sets by Santo Loquasto - Ginny and Humpty live in an airy shack above the Coney Island midway that's like a fishbowl of resentment - and especially Vittorio Storaro's cinematography. Juno Temple enters the scene, in a pretty dress, looking the embodiment of 1950s young womanhood.

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Her response fell in line with what many actors who enjoy working with Allen but who wish to separate themselves from the allegations have said. Variety asked her for a cover story about whether or not she considered his past when accepting the "Wonder Wheel" role, to which Winslet responded, "It's just a hard discussion". A vindictive middle-aged actress desperately clinging to a man she's losing to a younger woman? So what does she do? His co-star Kate Winslet decided not to thank Weinstein during her 2009 Oscars speech, explaining to the Los Angles Times in a piece published in October, "If people aren't well-behaved, why would I thank him?" This is the first place that gangsters would look.

Temple is more adult and aware here than elsewhere, as radiant and idiosyncratic as a studio-age star.

But from opening frame to final credits, this is Winslet's movie, reminding both fans and late arrivals that the English-born actress has wowed us with tough-minded and tough-hearted characters in films from "Heavenly Creatures" for New Zealand's Peter Jackson to the heartbreaking love story of a former concentration camp guard who seduces a young German boy ("The Reader"), or as the girl who challenges her American lover to wipe his memory clean of their affair ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), or as the young Englishwoman who tragically loses her working-class lover to sea-going tragedy ("Titanic"). Ginny (Kate Winslet giving a terrific performance that nearly makes me forget The Mountain Between Us exists) is unhappy as the wife to Humpty (Saturday Night Live alumni and Chicago's own Jim Belushi), often neglected with references to physical abuse (although never depicted on-screen).

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Allen peppers in multiple references to the works of Eugene O'Neill. He also has a way of finding grand moral issues - the matters of conscience that define entire lives - through seemingly small events. Farrow especially took issue with how stars like Kate Winslet, Greta Gerwig, and Blake Lively emphatically voice approval of Weinstein suffering consequences for decades of alleged harassment but either dodge the question or praise Allen as an artist when asked how they reconcile working with him.

Of course Ginny would be upset and distraught and devastated upon learning of Mickey's love for Carolina, but as written by Allen and played by Winslet, Ginny becomes completely unhinged, to the point of criminal madness. Humpty (Jim Belushi), Carolina's father and Ginny's husband, struggles with his alcohol abuse and the return of his daughter. Yet, like Timberlake, there is something true at the core of what he's doing.

At its best, "Wonder Wheel", is sweet East Coast beach nostalgia, satisfying memories of seashores where you could actually make it into the water without freezing your butt off or risking being swept to your death from treacherous riptides. It also shows how things in life can change like the seasons but that they also often stay exactly the same.

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Wonder Wheel is in cinemas now.

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