-Released on December 1, 2017

-Runtime 101 Minutes

-Budget: $25 Million

-Production Studio:Amazon Studios, Gravier Productions, Perdido Productions

-Distributor: Amazon Studios

Rated: PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1

Woody Allen films now come in three essential flavors, or maybe it just comes down to three levels of quality. Once in a blue jasmine moon, he comes up with an enthralling act of high-wire inspiration, like “Match Point” or “Blue Jasmine,” that proves that he can still be as major as any filmmaker out there. Then there are the quaintly crafted, phoned-in mediocrities, like “Café Society” or “To Rome with Love,” where the jokes feel old and the situations older, like the Woody Allen version of paint by numbers. But then there are the middle-drawer Allen films that still percolate with energy and flair, like “Bullets Over Broadway” or “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” They’re too baubly and calculated to be great, with each Woody trope locking into place, yet damned if they don’t hold you and even, in their way, add up to something (even if it’s ultimately something minor). [8]

 

“Wonder Wheel” is one of those movies. Set in Coney Island in 1950, it’s a bit too tidy and programmed in a well-made-play-from-the-postwar-era kind of way. Yet it’s more than a therapy session with antiquated wisecracks. It’s got movement and flow, it’s got a vibrant sunset look of honky-tonk nostalgia, and it’s got a bittersweet mood of lyrical despair that the film stays true to right up until the final note. It’s also strikingly acted by a cast of players who don’t just walk through the Woody motions (though at least three of them can be caught doing the stutter); they grab their roles and charge them with life. “Wonder Wheel” isn’t a comedy — on the contrary, it often feels like the most earnest kitchen-sink drama that Clifford Odets never wrote. It may or may not turn out to be an awards picture, but it’s a good night out, and that’s not nothing. [8]

"Wonder Wheel" Screening Companion

The Return of Vittorio Storaro

 

This is Mr. Allen’s second movie with the cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who seems to have enjoyed taking the color wheel and camera out for a spin. He gives the story visual flow, even when the characters are in claustrophobic lockdown. And Mr. Storaro keeps your pupils dancing with the light and dark hues. Some of the establishing shots of Coney Island recall the softer side of Technicolor, whereas the violently saturated scenes suggest the vibrancy of the Blue Rider palette. The more extreme colors — including an unlovely orange light that floods Ginny — pushes the whole thing into expressionism even as the movie fluctuates between kitchen-sink realism and hothouse melodrama. [3]

 

As in Café Society, Allen's most valuable collaborators, alongside his female lead, are cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and production designer Santo Loquasto. The dazzling opening panorama of the jam-packed beach at Coney Island, with the amusement-park attractions in the background, evokes countless classic photographs of the Brooklyn leisure destination in its heyday, before seediness had fully taken hold. Not since Francis Ford Coppola's One From the Hearthas Storaro's paintbox been richer; the lustrous colors are eye-popping. [11]

 

Now 82, Will Allen Continue to Make Films?

 

“I could go on making movies as long as I hold out, and if I have healthy longevity—my father lived to a little over 100, and my mother lived to almost 100,” he declared. “The other reason that people make them at a slower pace is not any creative problem for them—it’s that it’s hard to raise money for movies.” [4]

 

“But I don’t have that problem. I raise money independently. So, the minute I pull my script out of the typewriter, the money is there. “My movies are less expensive. When I see these summer films that are coming out, and they say this was $160 million and this was $200 million, I haven’t worked that way. I work infinitely cheaper than that. “So being under the radar, I lose less and make less. That way, I have been able to go for many years getting backing and being a good risk.” [4]

 

The Blurring of Fact and Fiction

 

These days, a critic approaches a new film by Woody Allen with trepidation – even dread. Will one be permitted to review the art, or will the filmmaker himself once again force reviewers to consider his life? [5]

 

The heart wants what it wants, as Mr. Allen once said by way of explaining his affair with his now wife, Soon-Yi, the daughter of his longtime ex, Mia Farrow. I tend to think it’s a bad idea to put a movie on the couch, but what if it climbs on the couch and then starts winking? [3]

 

At one point, after Ginny has turned into Blanche DuBois, she announces, “When it comes to love we often turn out to be our own worst enemy.” And not for the first time you wonder what Mr. Allen, who has long blurred fact and fiction, thinks he’s doing here. He couldn’t have anticipated that his name would be in the news because of the allegations of sexual abuse upending the entertainment industry. Yet how could we not think of him? ...Critics have often uneasily ignored his history, but he himself seems perversely intent on invoking it. [3]

 

Is Wonder Wheel a Step Forward or Back for Allen?

 

Shooting digitally, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro color-codes the characters’ crises in symbolically loaded fashion, with the screen awash in heavily saturated midnight blues and sunset orange. Everything’s lit by neon; the key location, the apartment overlooking the Ferris wheel of the title, begs for it. But the color schemes are more like color conspiracies. Allen’s direction is actually improving at this stage of his career; whoever designed the shots here, he or Storaro or both, occasionally there’s a longish, fluid take that makes “Wonder Wheel” feel like a movie, moving, as opposed to a bad play standing still. [6]

 

The look of the film similarly prompts nostalgia for better Allen excursions. Did you love Vittorio Storaro’s “golden hour” lighting from Café Society? It’s back big-time, assaulting the eyeballs as hair and faces explode in a blaze of overexposure that looks more like incompetence than art. Everything strains to serve an underwritten story that resembles a community theatre stage production more than a major motion picture. None of the characters are remotely credible, with the exception of Winslet’s tragic Ginny, who loves neither wisely nor well. [12]

 

Woody Allen has made so many great and near-great movies that every new release begins with an audience wondering — is this going to be another one? Usually, within about 15 minutes, the answer is apparent, and usually the answer is no. That’s how it works, even with the best. Babe Ruth hit a lot of home runs, but most of the time he made an out, and when he did get a hit, it was usually a single. [7]

 

Allen’s latest, “Wonder Wheel” is a single — or maybe it’s a single stretched to a double on the basis of some fancy baserunning (acting) by Kate Winslet. In almost any other filmmaker’s oeuvre, this film would be considered a highlight. But for the director who made “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Match Point” and “Blue Jasmine”? It’s right up there with “Melinda and Melinda” and “Scoop.” Good, not great. [7]

 

 

Casting Wonder Wheel

 

Woody: “The first person I cast was Kate Winslet, then I cast a young girl named Juno Temple who I thought very much of,” the film genius began. “I cast Jim Belushi who I thought was absolutely perfect for it. [4]

 

Woody: “I had seen Justin Timberlake in the Facebook movie (‘The Social Network’) in just a few perfunctory moments while I was on the treadmill. I would be tuning in and be saying, ‘Who is that guy? He seems to be very good.’ So I remember him from the Facebook movie and I don’t know him from the music world. He always seemed like a very interesting actor. [4]

 

Woody: “I was doing this film and I thought, who could I get that would be an interesting guy to play a lifeguard in about 1950?  I was sitting and talking with my brain trust. Someone said, ‘What about Justin Timberlake?’ They said, ‘Yes, he would be wonderful; he is a wonderful actor.’ [4]

 

Woody: “So, he came in from California. We chatted, and it was two minutes, because there’s really nothing to say.” His final sentence on this topic was classic Woody Allen: “I want to use him, he would like to do it, and so we smiled and exchanged insincerities, and we signed him up.” [4]

 

The Real Wonder Wheel

 

The Wonder Wheel was invented by Charles Herman and built between 1918 and 1920 by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company. It opened on Memorial Day, 1920.

 

Herman called it the "Dip-the-Dip" promising to combine in his new invention the thrill of a scenic railway, the fun of a Ferris wheel, and the excitement of the Chute-the-Chutes. An article written about the ride in Science and Invention said the Wheel was a "real thrill like you have probably never had before-at least not at this great height."

 

Deno D. Vourderis bought the Wonder Wheel in 1983 from the son of Charles Herman, then restored it and made it the central attraction of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. In 1989 it was designated as a New York City landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

 

Since it opened over 35 million rides have been given on the Wheel.

 

Trivia

 

-The film was released on December 1, 2017, Woody Allen's 82nd birthday. [1]

 

-This is the second collaboration between Woody Allen and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the first being Café Society (2016). [1]

 

-This is the 25th collaboration between Woody Allen and production designer Santo Loquasto, some of their films include Radio Days (1987), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Shadows and Fog (1991), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Blue Jasmine (2013), and Cafe Society (2016).

-Debi Mazar previously appeared in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway. [1]

 

-Max Casella previously appeared in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. [1]

 

-Kate Winslet was the first actor who came on board for the film in July 2016. [2]

 

-Principal photography began in Coney Island on September 15, 2016. [2]

 

-Kate Winslet was original attached to Match Point, but left the project to be with her family. Scarlett Johansson was cast to replace her. (2006)

 

Critical Reception

 

Manohla Dargis for The New York Times wrote, “Wonder Wheel, Woody Allen’s latest movie, is one of his more unfortunate contributions to cinema.”

 

Michael Phillips for the Chicago Tribune wrote, “We’re long past worrying about spoiler alerts with a Woody Allen movie. The women in “Wonder Wheel” are ruined, and the writer comes out fine, and unlike the similar dynamic in Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” the primary ripoff point for Allen this time, the male instigator in the relational chaos isn’t examined critically or even dramatically. He’s just a guy talking to the camera, in between shots of beautiful women, beautifully lighted, mired in a filmmaker’s creative exhaustion.”

 

Mick LaSalle for San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “If there’s a weakness to “Wonder Wheel,” it’s that, in the end, all the bigness and bluster don’t land with an impression of importance. Things happen in the lives of these people, and we watch, and we understand that it’s all a very big deal — for them, not us. All the same, “Wonder Wheel” engages our attention from beginning to end.”

 

Peter Travers for Rolling Stone wrote, “All the sturm and drang is given a jewel-like setting by the legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and production designer Santo Loquasto. Still, there are valid criticisms of Wonder Wheel as a film that feels more like a stage play – its claustrophobic atmosphere can be stifling. But even covering familiar ground, Allen finds the blunt truth at its core. As Ginny is stripped of her fantasies and exposed to the harsh glare of reality, Winslet stands her ground, as if to say attention must be paid. It should be. Her performance is absolutely astounding.”

 

Owen Gleiberman for Variety wrote, “The more films that Woody Allen makes, the more it can seem as though he assembles them by re-arranging the same dozen spare parts, and in “Wonder Wheel” you can tick them off as you’re watching them...There are moments in “Wonder Wheel” — not many, but a few — that color in the characters’ experiences in a way that can leave you breathless...Yet if “Wonder Wheel” is structured as a tragedy, a tale of people brought low by their own unconscious hand, you don’t necessarily feel the forces of fate at work. What you feel is the force of a filmmaker who’s been at this game too long to leave much to chance.”

 

-David Edelstein for Vulture wrote, “I wondered if Allen had discovered the script in an old file cabinet (maybe meant as a play?) and appended that meta intro to account for how obvious and old-hat the rest of it is. Probably a good strategy.”

 

-Rex Reed for Observer wrote: “This is [Winslet’s] finest, most three-dimensional performance in years and she plays every mood shift brilliantly in sync with the melancholy around her. There isn’t a dull moment in her extravagant characterization of a woman falling apart, bit by bit, or in Woody Allen’s generous, thrilling direction of her, scene by scene. We’ve had Woody Allen bright, fanciful, literary, musical, goofy, lyrical, and hilarious. This is Woody Allen dark, and still splendid all the way.”

 

Wonder Wheel has a 30% Rotten Tomatoes rating as of December 30, 2017.

 

Cast

 

Kate Winslet

Justin Timberlake

Juno Temple

Jim Belushi

Jack Gore

Debi Mazar

Tony Sirico

Steve Schirripa

Max Casella

David Krumholtz

 

Review Headlines

 

-Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel uncomfortably parallels his personal history - The Globe and Mail

 

-Woody Allen, enough. Enough. - Chicago Tribune

 

-Wonder Wheel is Woody Allen recycling - The Toronto Star

 

-‘Wonder Wheel’ is a little like an opera, Woody Allen-style - San Francisco Chronicle

 

-Kate Winslet Singes in Woody Allen's Dour Drama - Rolling Stone

 

-Wonder Wheel is one of Woody Allen's sourest, stagiest, and most disturbingly personal movies - A.V. Club

 

-Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel Is Obvious and Old-Hat - Vulture

 

-Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’ Is Kate Winslet’s Best in Years - Observer

 

-Both as movie and as Woody Allen diatribe, ‘Wonder Wheel’ spins out - Chicago Sun Times

Kate Winslet on Playing “Ginny”

 

Winslet: “I think I had to accept quite early on, that I was going to feel profoundly irritated by Ginny, all of the time. And, also, that I had to stay the right side of the line with her.” [14]

 

Winslet: “There’s this really interesting thing that happens as an actor, at a certain point in one’s life, you have to realize — and this probably happened to me in my mid-twenties — that you just can’t like every character that you play. It isn’t right to try and make the audience like them, because that doesn’t make for an interesting performance all the time, and it also doesn’t make for truthful storytelling, either.” [14]

 

Winslet: “Ginny was, without question, the most complex and layered female character that I think I had ever read. Everything she feels is very powerful. She’s never meek and mild. She never feels things in half measure. Nothing was by half. If she was drinking, she was drinking. If she was smoking, she was smoking.” [14]

 

Winslet: “She still believed that, on somewhere, in some way, and on some level, her past life is having a daily impact on the life she doesn’t want to be living right now. She’s so racked with guilt and regret. I’ve never known a character live so much embroiled in the turbulence of her past as Ginny was.” [14]

 

Winslet: “I’m still not very good, actually, at letting characters go. I’m not. I look at photographs of myself, immediately after that shoot… and I just look horrific. I just look like a different person. Shellshocked or something, at having come out the other side of playing such a gigantic, all-consuming character.” [14]

 

 

Kate Winslet on Working with Woody

 

Winslet said that Allen’s reputation for having a quirky, demanding personality made her nervous, especially during the initial phone call. “Immediately I’m not being myself and I hate myself and I’m thanking God that I’m not auditioning because I definitely would not have gotten the job,” Winslet said. [9]

 

She was planning on spending a summer adventuring with her family when she got a call from Allen asking her to read the script for his film and consider the lead role. Though she was originally going to stick with her plan of taking time away from acting to be with her family, they eventually convinced her to take the role. [9]

 

Winslet devoted the rest of the summer to learning her lines and mentally preparing herself to perform for Allen. “I wanted to be everything that Woody Allen had hoped that I would be and I wanted to be more and I wanted to be able to surprise him and surpass his expectations,” she said. “But most of all I wanted to be bulletproof and I wanted to be easy for him to work with.” [9]

 

Winslet: “You can’t make mistakes when you do 14-page scenes in one take,” she said. “There is no backing up. You have to stop, and start, all over again. I would just hate that. I have personal standards. I would be devastated.” [14]

 

Winslet: “I would wake up with a racing heart, in the middle of the night. It was like this feeling of stop, go, stop, go, being ready to run. Being ready to strap into the white-knuckle ride. This constant adrenaline-fueled state that found myself in, that was not very nice, and not very comfortable at all.” [14]

 

Winslet wasn’t bothered by Allen’s approach toward his actors, which is usually skews toward keeping them at arm’s length. “I do pride myself on being fairly self-sufficient, a director can say anything to me, anything at all, and I’m not offended,” she said. “I would rather be told, and I can always tell if I’m not being told the truth.” [14]

 

Winslet: "I think on some level Woody is a woman. I just think he's very in touch with that side of himself. He understands the female characters he creates exceptionally well. His female characters are always so rich and large and honest in terms of how they're feeling and he just knows how to write dialogue for them to communicate all that." [13]

 

 

Premise

 

In the hustle and bustle of 1950s Coney Island, where the buzzing crowd comes and goes trudging slowly over the wooden boardwalks, silent stories of the everyday toilers who give life to the attraction unfold. Somewhere in a clam bar, there's the sad waitress Ginny, a one-time actress and now a suffering wife who's been given a second chance by the side of the well-intentioned but uncouth carousel operator, Humpty. On the other hand, there's Humpty's 26-year-old estranged daughter, Carolina, who left the familial nest and a preordained future seeking adventure as a mobster's wife; only to return home with her wings broken, begging for forgiveness. And from the lifeguard's high tower, where all is in plain sight, the young and charming lifesaver and hopeful playwright, Mickey, is the inadvertent but potent catalyst that binds everything together. Shattered dreams, reckless love and betrayal, all under the bright lights of Coney Island. [1]