Susan Granger’s review of “Wonder Wheel” (Amazon Studios)
Woody Allen’s new film returns to the signature giant blue Ferris wheel that looms over Coney Island’s amusement park, recalling his youth, back in the 1950s.
Morose, melancholy, migraine headache-plagued Ginny (Kate Winslet), a former actress, works as a waitress at Ruby’s Clam House. Approaching her 40th birthday, she unhappily married to oafish, volatile carousel-operator Humpty (Jim Belushi), whose long-estranged daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) suddenly shows up on their doorstep.
Fleeing from her gangster husband and his crime-syndicate cohorts after squealing to the F.B.I., penniless, on-the-lam Carolina has nowhere else to go. “I know where all the bodies are buried,” she explains.
And none of this sits well with Ginny’s preteen pyromaniac son, Richie (Jack Gore), from her first marriage to the jazz drummer whom she recklessly betrayed.
Not surprisingly, having her nubile 26 year-old stepdaughter around interferes with Ginny’s adulterous affair with seductive Mickey Rubin (Justin Timberlake), the local lifeguard who commutes from his pad in Greenwich Village and dreams of becoming a major playwright, like Eugene O’Neill.
Too bad that Timberlake hasn’t developed the acting chops to tackle this kind of complicated, multi-layered role, serving – as many others have – as Allen’s talking-into-the-camera alter-ego.
What Allen excels at is capturing Brooklyn’s orange-hued Coney Island atmosphere, sharing credit with cinematographer Vittorio Stonaro and production designer Santo Loquasto, who use innovative lighting and camera angles to resurrect the bustling boardwalk of years past.
And Allen subtly scores by casting “Sopranos” veterans Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa as the menacing goons on Carolina’s tail.
FYI: The cast and crew moved to Staten Island to film scenes that take supposedly place under the boardwalk since that space no longer exists; it was filled with sand after Hurricane Sandy.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wonder Wheel” is a simmering, yet stilted 6, filled with bittersweet nostalgia and a terrific soundtrack.