While on stage at the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards, actor Kate Winslet tearfully confessed to "bitter regrets" about working with "men of power" who have been accused of sexual abuse. The actor didn't name names, but she's appeared in Roman Polanski’s 2011 film “Carnage” and Woody Allen’s latest theatrical release, which could also be his last, considering the rumors regarding the cancelled distribution of his next film.
Before contrition overtook Winslet, she played Ginny, a migraine-prone waitress in a post-war Coney Island clam house who pines for her days on the stage. Ginny is now unhappily married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), a loud but soft-hearted slob who when he's not fishing with his buddies off the pier doesn't quite scrape together a living as the ticket-taker for the park's carousel, the Wonder Wheel of the film's title. Neither pays much attention to Richie (Jack Gore), Ginny's red-headed juvenile delinquent son from a previous marriage to a handsome actor.
With the 2013 release of Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett, some thought Allen had finally exhausted his obsession with tragic Blanche DuBois-like female characters. But this time, instead of a modern interpretation—Anjelica Huston's turn as the inconvenient mistress in “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a further example—Allen employs cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's claustrophobic framing and colorist Anthony Raffaele's contrast and shadows and highlights to channel the Technicolor melodramatics of mid-century Tennessee Williams adaptations.
Nevertheless, it's to dramatist Eugene O’Neill that lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake), an aspiring playwright, pledges an affinity, interrupting his summer affair with Ginny to introduce her to one of O'Neill's books and lecture her on the concept of self-deception for survival. It's a schoolish lesson redundant for someone so practiced in delusion (Ginny pretended to like fishing with Humpty just so she could start pretending to be a waitress on the boardwalk).
Such is the fundamental deficiency of Allen's storytelling. From the opening scene, he relies on the narration of Mickey, a nebbish interloper, for the moral supervision of the film. For any role more substantial than a two-minute comedy sketch, Timberlake's acting abilities are limited to a stiff impersonation. When Mickey throws Ginny over for the pretty Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s prodigal daughter being tracked by the mob because she "knows where the bodies are buried," it's hard to believe in the sincerity of the feeling or to care about the consequences. Perhaps this failure could signal the need for Allen to take a closer, clearer look at himself.