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.
Wonder Wheel is a 2017 American period drama film written and directed by Woody Allen, and starring Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, and Justin Timberlake. The film is set in a 1950s amusement park on Coney Island, and follows the wife of a carousel operator and her husband’s estranged daughter as they pursue the same man.
Kate Winslet was the first actor who came on board for the film, in July 2016, followed by Juno Temple and Jim Belushi. Allen, describing the casting process, said that, “The first person I cast was Kate Winslet, then I cast a young girl named Juno Temple who I thought very much of,” and “I cast Jim Belushi who I thought was absolutely perfect for it.” Talking about the film, Winslet – who was previously attached to Allen’s 2005 drama film Match Point but left the project to spend more time with her family – said, “I play the lead. My character is called Ginny, and she’s a waitress in a clam house… It was probably like the second most stressful part I’ve ever played, but the experience itself was just utterly incredible.”
Allen later signed Justin Timberlake in the role of a lifeguard, saying that “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?'” On August 19, 2016, Tony Sirico joined the cast. In September 2016, Jack Gore, Steve Schirripa, and Max Casella rounded out the cast of the film.
The film premiered as the closing night selection at the 55th New York Film Festival, on October 14, 2017, and was theatrically released on December 1, 2017, by Amazon Studios, the same day as Allen’s 82nd birthday.
Principal photography began in Coney Island on September 15, 2016. On the same day, filming took place at Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn around Hudson Avenue and Gold Street. Timberlake and Temple were spotted filming at Brighton Beach on September 16, 2016, and Winslet and Timberlake filmed scenes at Coney Island on September 19, 2016.
As of January 28, 2018, Wonder Wheel has grossed $1.4 million in the United States and Canada, and $10 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $11.4 million. In the United States the film made $125,570 from five theaters in its opening weekend (an average of $25,114), marking a 61% drop from Café Society’s debut the previous year. In France, the film was released on January 31, 2018 and sold 20,147 tickets on its opening day, marking the lowest of any Allen film in over 15 years.
Film Review for Wonder Wheel
Kate Winslet is on fire in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, playing Ginny, an unhappily married waitress living near the boardwalk on Brooklyn’s Coney Island circa 1950. This broken dreamer is pushing 40 and reaching the limits of her patience with Humpty (a solidly affecting Jim Belushi), the carousel-operator she married to provide a semblance of security for her pre-teen, budding-pyromaniac son Richie (Jack Gore), a budding pyromaniac. The Wonder Wheel outside their window spins in circles – just like Ginny, who drinks too much and lashes out at anyone who doesn’t like it.
She’s lost any hope for her would-be acting career or a fresh incentive in life. Then in walks Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a studly young lifeguard who sees himself as a dramatist ready to give Broadway a new voice. “I relish larger-than-life characters,” he tells us in banal voiceover. (Allen doesn’t give the role many colors, which limits Timberlake’s performance.) The kid is a delusional prettyboy. But Ginny, who Winslet makes larger-than-life, sees him as her way out. They’re both kidding themselves.
This is somber material, like something Mickey might write while imitating Clifford Odets, that socially-conscious playwright known for his tough talk and thrusting the audience into the middle of a dramatic conflict without preamble. In Barton Fink, the 1991 film from the Coen brothers, the title character played by John Turturro was created in the image of the Waiting for Lefty author, an up-from-poverty New York Jew whose plays championed the common man. Hollywood thought it wanted “that Barton Fink feeling,” until his seriousness choked off the box office. You might get that “Barton Fink feeling” watching Wonder Wheel, since Allen lays low on the laughs to brings us in to the lives of loud desperation led by his characters.
Take Belushi’s Humpty who, tired of his “mopey” wife and her “mopey” son, tries to reconcile with his adult daughter Caroline (a stellar Juno Temple). She’s being pursued by the mob; the young woman has also taken a romantic interest in Mickey that sparks a final clash-by-night confrontation. The focus stays, as it should, on Ginny. The character draws on Blanche Dubois, the tragic heroine of the Tennessee Williams drama, A Streetcar Named Desire, who Allen reimagined for Cate Blanchett to play (to Oscar glory) in Blue Jasmine. Winslet, as always, goes her own way, delineating Ginny’s selfishness and anger without negating her questing mind and heart. Her final speech about marriage (one of the writer-director’s best) is a crusher.
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.
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Wonder Wheel (2017)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Kate Winslet, Max Casella, David Krumholtz, Tommy Nohilly, Tony Sirico, Steve Schirripa, Tom Guiry, Gregory Dann, Geneva Carr
Screenplay by: Woody Allen
Production Design by: Santo Loquasto
Cinematography by: Vittorio Storaro
Film Editing by: Alisa Lepselter
Costume Design by: Suzy Benzinger
Set Decoration by: Regina Graves
Art Direction by: Miguel López-Castillo
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking.
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Release Date: December 1, 2017