Rated PG-13
101 Minutes
Released December 1

I saw Wonder Wheel at a screening that featured a live Q&A with the lead actors afterwards, and I got to thinking (often a dangerous development).

Why is it that Woody Allen’s films seem a bit lacking in thrills and chills, very cerebral, yet the greatest actors in the world are ecstatic to be offered a role by this writer/director? Allen’s unique cinematic language is born in an erudite writer’s head – intellectual rather than realistic.

He puts words in play with the actors as if to throw them a ball. The success of his communication lies completely with the actors, who are charged with making the dialogue work as if it’s endemic to their characters.

In the case of Wonder Wheel, the cast makes it work on a high level. The dialogue alone drives the story, not the visuals, certainly not music – Allen does not hire a composer.

His dialogue serves as music. Allen is that rare director who can take what seems to be a theatre piece and make it work on screen. He seems to think of the set as a theatre stage…or the bedcover on which he moves his toy soldiers.

Allen hires the best in the business to bring his concepts to reality. His cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, has won three Oscars. The colors, the angles, the lighting, all make a rich potpourri of imagination within a setting that familiar to many: Coney Island of the 1950’s.

Wonder Wheel is a window into the interactions of some self-absorbed, flawed, yet likeable characters, each with their own sphere of yearnings, dreams and reality.

Kate Winslet knew she had to have Allen’s intricate dialogue completely embedded in her memory, to be repeated on instinct. She knew she would be the center of the ensemble.

She spent three months constantly focused on memorization and succeeded in creating the role of “Ginny” beautifully. I believe it’s no accident that the character’s first name is the same as the iconic “Virginia Woolf.”

Justin Timberlake as the ubiquitous “Woody Allen” central character, has to choose between a relationship with a mother or with her stepdaughter…the irony is not lost. Jim Belushi felt privileged to work with Allen.

He said that Allen would set up the scene and give them the reins to just play with it, an improvisation with set dialogue. The director would know if a scene lost its rhythm or dialogue wasn’t working.

He would be the first to say, “I need to rewrite that!”

If you expect this will be a movie in a traditional cinematic style, you may be bored and disappointed. It’s not a film that leaves you mesmerized.

It is fun to watch and the acting is some of the best you will ever see. Woody Allen as a director is a kid playing with his toys – this I mean in a good way. If you see his movies with that in mind, you will discover that life is a fascinating Wonder Wheel.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica.

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