Wonder Wheel, C-
Rated PG-13, 101 minutes
The new romantic drama "Wonder Wheel" is a stifling misfire from prolific, Oscar-winning director Woody Allen, who's done far better work than this. In spite of a superb performance from its lead actress, it's depressing, creepy and has a claustrophobic, stage-like energy that hampers its power.
The film takes place amid the hustle and bustle of 1950's Coney Island and follows Ginny (Kate Winslet, excellent) the wife of a carousel operator named Humpty (Jim Beluhsi), who perks up when she falls for handsome lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake). But when her husband's estranged daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) resurfaces and also sets her sights on Mickey, it begins a great unraveling of Ginny.
Talky, downbeat and far from wondrous, "Wonder Wheel" is directed and written by Allen and is his most least satisfying film in years. The film has two things going for it: the magnetic performance from Winslet, who carries the film - yet still can't save it - and the gorgeous photography from Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro of "Apocalypse Now," who adds some golden luminosity to Coney Island, which never looked better.
What's truly unfortunate is Allen's stale story, which follows another fragile female as she fantasizes about life with a younger, more handsome man, the miscast Timberlake, who in the film's most sexist turn, is the film's narrator, and somehow the film is told from his perspective, rather than from Winslet's Ginny, who's by far the more interesting character. A blustery Belushi is clearly channeling Jackie Gleason from "The Honeymooners," while the lovely Temple is underused; it's their father-daughter relationship that's slightly creepy given Allen's real-life drama, though thankfully it's never fully explored.
Allen doesn't help "Wonder Wheel" by filming like a stage play and making you feel claustrophobic with some of its main set pieces: he wants you feel like you're watching Tennessee Williams, yet lacking the passion and excitement. To his credit, he gives the best scenes and monologues to Winslet in a fine turn, but she's wasted by Allen's lackluster script and direction.
"Wonder Wheel" seems to have come along at the wrong time, given the misogynist cloud hanging over Hollywood at the moment post-Weinstein. Allen's films - especially this one - seem to focus on women's fragility and not their strength, which is unfortunate. Winslet is terrific, but otherwise "Wonder Wheel" is a depressing misfire and big disappointment for the director.