Film Reviews

WONDER WHEEL

By • Nov 23rd, 2017 •

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Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE and now WONDER WHEEL  explore his obsession that women are Judases, harming the people closest to them.

If you loved – like I did – Woody Allen’s 2013 BLUE JASMINE starring Cate Blanchett as a woman coming “unglued” and facing a homeless life which she initiated, then WONDER WHEEL is the same core story with a different cast, different location and different era. But sadly, not as good.

Its the 1950s and Ginny (Kate Winslet) has not given up her dream of returning to an early acting career. And from where she finds herself, even thinking about acting is a folly. Ginny lives in Coney Island with her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi) and her son, Ritchie (Jack Bore) from a past marriage she ruined through her infidelity.

She’s nearing 40 and is a waitress at a clam restaurant. Humpty works the ferris wheel at the park. He’s a slob, a recovering alcoholic and prone to yelling and throwing things. There is no love left between them. Humpty has a 26 year old daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), he is estranged from.

BLUE JASMINE’S Jasmine and Hal are a power couple in Manhattan. They are fabulously rich because of Hal’s unconventional investments. When her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) comes for a visit, she brings her working-class slob of a husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay).

Belushi and Dice Clay are playing Allen’s “brute lower-class husbands. Humpty is estranged from his daughter; Hal has a son he is estranged from.

Ginny is unhappy, frustrated and worn-down. Then she meets the summer lifeguard, Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a NYU student majoring in European theater. Mickey is Ginny’s fantasy savior and she pursues him relentlessly. Mickey has the sexual interest of a young man – meaning he is blinded by all women who are reasonably attractive. Ginny’s wanton desperation excites Mickey. They begin an affair.

If Humpty was paying attention, he would notice Ginny caring more about her appearance and her frequent unexplained absences.

Carolina turns up after six years and Humpty is enraged. Especially since it was her elopement with a gangster that Humpty forbid. Thus the estrangement. Whatever the gangster was into, Carolina “ratted” him out to the FBI. Now, she is being hunted by his crew. Where else to hide but Coney Island?

As soon as Mickey sets his eyes on Carolina and smells her desperation, he pursues her. Carolina likes him and Ginny falls into the ugly role of jealous older woman. If Carolina wins Mickey, Ginny’s plan to run off with him and star in a play he  writes for her will never happen.

To compound Ginny’s problems, Richie sets fires. Humpty refuses to give her his secret stash to pay for a therapist. He has been saving the money for Caronlina’s schooling. Having Carolina back in his life, gives Humpty a newfound happiness.

Now, Allen knows that children setting fires (child pyromanic) is a serious mental disorder. Parental neglect, stressful life events, a way to cope with crises, parental abuse and violence are many factors that bring about the need to start a fire.

Is this a new trend? Interestingly, THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017) also has children starting a devastating fire that brings down a building. The chances that a child will recover from pyromania are very slim according to recent studies. Fire-setting, cruelty to animals and bed-wetting are the three significant precursors of violent offenders and serial killers.

Is there a personal reason that writer-director Allen made Richie a child pyromanic? Did he, or does he, know a child fire-starter?There is no reason in the plot of this movie. It just hangs there.

Finally, the crisis moment that Jasmine instigates, that changes and destroys her life and what Ginny does to destroy the lives of others (and possibly her own life), make BLUE JASMINE and WONDER WHEEL too similar to ignore.

In both films, the women are Judases, harming the people closest to them. So its a theme Allen has been obssessing on.

Andrew Dice Clay in BLUE JASMINE and Jim Belushi in WONDER WHEEL, with their unkempt appearance, bulging stomachs and loud mouths, are Allen’s offensive caricature of hard-working, gruff, lower-class men with reviled but honest jobs.

Winslet, like Blanchett, is a first-class actress who does not require direction. This is why Allen casts established actors and actresses that can fashion a role themselves. These are actors who know where their key light is and how to walk into a room. They know how to upstage a fellow performer and how to make their dialogue more meaningful.

The Atlantic, in its online October 2017 edition, has the article  The Remarkable Laziness of Woody Allen, which explains Allen’s directing style. Here are just two gems from the article.

On his famous direction of actors and actresses “…he offers his performers little or no guidance and tries to complete every scene in as few takes as possible.” Allen likes to be finished by 6 o’clock and go home. According to the article, Allen doesn’t bother much with the things directors do. He’s rarely involved and as far as being a renowned 81 year old workhorse, Liam Neesom said they finished filming everyday at 4 P.M.

“On the set, Allen typically offers his actors no direction before the camera rolls. If he is unhappy with a performance, though, he will weigh in with recommendations. In addition to limiting the number of takes on any given shot, he strongly prefers “master shots”—those that capture an entire scene from one angle—over multiple shots that would subsequently need to be edited together.”

So we can assume that Winslet crafted her own performance. She gives it everything she has even though Allen offers her no redemption. Like Jasmine, Ginny has “cut off her nose to spite her face.”

This is the subtext Allen is getting at: Jasmine and Ginny hurt themselves more than they hurt the ones they were angry at, making the idiom,”Cutting off the nose to spite the face” the key point of both films. But Allen must know that sometimes, walking around with no nose is worth it.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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