It's Woody Allen, so you know a couple of things before you begin:
one, there's going to be a halting, sometimes sttutering kind of
cadence to the dialgoue, you know, like Woody talks.
Two, there's going to be a nostalgic element, and it's going to
persist. An old recording of
“Coney Island Washboard Roundelay,” by the Mills Brothers, lends a
ragtime whimsy to the convoluted people proceedings.
“Wonder Wheel” is the name of the big ferris wheel on Coney
Island. It's sometime in the
1950's. Coney Island is still
crowded with summer vacationers, but it's starting to get seedy.
Mickey (Justin Timberlake) is a lifeguard there, and also the
narrator, so his voiceovers abound. He
tells us he wants to be a writer, which means he's a romantic.
So he has no problem showing interest in a pretty woman he sees
walking along the beach, even if he knows she looks a little depressed,
and a lot vulnerable (right on both counts).
Ginny (Kate Winslet) is in an unhappy marriage with Humpty (Jim
Belushi). Her son from a
previous marriage, Richie (Jack Gore) drives them both nuts, because all
he wants to do is go to movies. And
set fires. His grown daughter
from a previous marriage, Carolina (Juno Temple), shows up unexpectedly
one day, and sets off an emotional firestorm.
Humpty had told her not to marry that gangster.
She said she was young and in love.
He told her not to come back. She
said after five years, she has no place else to go.
And besides, the Mob is looking for her.
So Ginny finds her a job at the Crab restaurant where she works as
a waitress, and Humpty, the attendant at the carousel, keeps saying
Carolina has a college education, she's too good to be a waitress, which
doesn't make Ginny feel great about herself, but then, she already feels
guilty because she knows she broke up her first marriage because she had
an affair, and now she's having a fling with the lifeguard, Mickey.
They meet up on rainy days, when he doesn't have to work, and
business is slow at the restaurant, anyway.
She starts to tell Mickey that she's in love, and wants to run away
with him. This scares him.
All he wanted was a little summer fun.
And then, when he meets Carolina, he finds he's attracted to her,
Kate Winslet delivers a finely nuanced performance as the
middle-aged mess whose dreams have all gone awry.
Belushi's ranting is some mashup of Marlon Brando and Ralph Kramden,
but he fails to convince us that he's a loveable loser; only an angry
And all this melodrama is interspersed by more nostalgic, romantic
music: “You Belong To Me,”
“Harbor Lights”----emphasizing the contrasting existential angst of
nobody quite being able to find what they want, even though everyone is so
Yes, Woody Allen will give us some stark lighting contrasts and
off-kilter camera angles, just to set a mood.
But since there are really no likeable characters here, it's hard
to root for them, even if they do find themselves without pleasant
options. Sometimes existential
angst is just a fancy term for downright depressing.