Video Note:
Wonder Wheel
19 April 2018

Kathleen said that she had heard that Wonder Wheel is “depressing,” so I thought I’d check it out first. Indeed, it turns out to be a film that she would find distressing.

At first, I found it distressing, too, but not because it was upsetting. Rather, the scene-setting dialogue between Juno Temple and Jim Belushi, playing estranged daughter and father, seemed implausible, anachronistic, and pasted together out of boilerplate. I gathered that this expository business didn’t interest Allen at all, although he may have had some very subtle purpose in mind. Kate Winslet’s  character, barking complaints like a frazzled dog turning in pointless circles, seemed an unfortunate misuse of great talent. And it took a while to decide that having Justin Timberlake play a callow young artist-type was interesting.

But the pyromaniac kid (Jack Gore) promised a magic show. Although I am not a fan of magic acts, I find it satisfying to treat Woody Allen’s movies as sleights of hand. Since he can put anything he wants to on the screen, that isn’t where the magic lies. The magic is in the narrative obliquity. Even when, as here, you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen, it’s interesting to watch the story get where it’s going. 

For example [spoiler alert!], you know that the wife is going to betray the stepdaughter. What you don’t foresee is that the betrayal will take the form of doing nothing

There is also the good old-fashioned movie magic of transforming Kate Winslet into Joan Crawford, even Gloria Swanson at moments. Wonder Wheel is a must-see for that alone. 

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