WONDER WHEEL Cert 12A Running time 101 minutes Stars 4

Kate Winslet has been grievously overlooked during awards season for her magnificent turn in Woody Allen’s dark period drama, his 48th film as director.

When even your leading lady distances herself from your movie for political reasons, one suspects #timesup for Allen’s big screen career.

His work exists within its own little bubble, and it’s the small differences which separate his films from each other. We have a familiar complex family dynamic, a central female role, and Italian gangsters threatening violence.

For the most urban of directors, it’s almost alarming to find this one is set on the beach and filled with bold saturated colour.

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro can be considered a co-author of this film the way Gordon Willis is the co-author of Allen’s Manhattan. And as Diane Keaton’s performance is key to the success of Allen’s 1979 masterpiece, so Winslet could be considered a co-author here. 

In a welcome gender inversion, Winslet plays the ‘Woody Allen’ character, a neurotic and romantically minded waitress called Ginny, having an affair with a younger lover.

Justin Timberlake is the hunky lifeguard on whom she projects a fantasy future together. As narrator, his character tells us at the beginning he enjoys big metaphor and broad characters and that’s what we get, with everything given an astonishing degree of artifice.

From the over-written dialogue, calculated performances and stagey confines, to the too shiny cars and bright nostalgic sunshine, everything is overcooked to represent how the dream world Ginny loses herself in.

A Ferris wheel dominates the landscape, as a knowingly absurdly kitsch representation of the wheel of fortune. While Winslet is often filmed in red light and at one point swathed in smoke, illustrating how she’s her trapped in a hell of her own making.

The choice between fantasy and reality is reinforced by her step-daughter who is happier having left the fake lifestyle of her wealthy husband and returned home to a more real existence. And of course characters escape the real world by hiding in the cinema.

As ever in Allen’s films, when someone chooses to pursue a fantasy existence over harsh reality, tragic events occur. This is closer in tone to 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanours than 2016’s Cafe Society, and though there are humorous moments, this is not one of Allen’s funny ones.


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