The new film written and directed by Woody Allen, “Wonder Wheel,” is a delight. It’s filled with full-bodied, real characters, and great themes. Colorful and creative, it perks along with the kind of syncopated rhythm (and jazz music) that seems just right for its Coney Island, New York, setting in the 1950’s.
The 82-year old Allen was born in Brooklyn in 1935. If anyone should know the feel of the borough’s most famous amusement park in the middle of the 20th century, it would be Allen.
The title refers to the park’s giant Ferris wheel that looms over much of the film. But while set in perhaps the most famous carnival atmosphere in America, this is no carnival ride of a movie. This is a summer drama about our passions and our unrealized dreams.
Here are the outlines of the story: Ginny is a middle-aged waitress, a one-time actress, stuck in a dead-end marriage and a dead-end job. She’s married to Humpty, a rough-and-tumble type who works the Coney Island carousel and likes to fish with his friends.
Complications ensue when Ginny meets a local young lifeguard, Mickey, who’s in graduate school at NYU studying literature, and then later, when Carolina, Humpty’s pretty young daughter, appears on the scene.
The film does a terrific job of juxtaposing the lights and colors and gaiety of the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island with the deep driving forces of its characters’ lives.
Of course, this is a Woody Allen movie. Some of the dialogue spoken by these working-class characters might sound a bit too elevated or literary. But let’s be honest: Allen writes movie scripts like he’s a playwright from the 1950’s. This is my take: Allen is an artist, of the old-school variety, and you either accept him on his terms (and enjoy your share of his films), or you don’t.
The acting in “Wonder Wheel” is first-rate across the board. Worth particular mention is Kate Winslet as Ginny, who expertly captures her character’s turmoil as the adulterous, jealous wife and mother.
“Wonder Wheel” is a delight to watch, but it’s not the kind of cotton candy you might be buy in a place like Coney Island. After leaving the theater, the movie’s images and themes lingered with me. Perhaps, I thought, the movie is about how our world is a strange combination of amusements and passions, of delights and disappointments; of life and death.
Our life is like the Wonder Wheel, isn’t it? Taking us up, and then down.
Have you seen “Wonder Wheel”? If so, please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
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