Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? That question has become an annual tradition when it comes to Woody Allen. Every year, critics and audiences must flagellate themselves over whether it’s OK to like his movies, given the sexual assault accusations that have plagued him since the 1990s and his romantic relationships (he’s married to the adopted daughter of his ex-wife).
It’s also an annual tradition for Allen to exorcise his sexual neuroses about women on screen, to increasingly diminishing returns.
His latest film, “Wonder Wheel,” is of the same sub-category as his lauded “Blue Jasmine,” which could be called “Older Women Are Scary.” Allen’s clearly fascinated by the complexities of feminine aging in relationship to men, younger women and life’s purpose, but his perspective on the process is unsympathetic. The roles may be juicy, but one can’t ignore the disdain for these women that pervades his films.
In this 1950s-era Coney Island fantasy, Kate Winslet plays Ginny, a failed actress who’s found herself waiting tables at a clam house, living in a rickety apartment above the boardwalk with her merry-go-round operator husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), and her pyromaniac son (Jack Gore). Her reprieve from this mundane life is an affair with the local lifeguard and aspiring playwright, Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a spit-shined hunk who serves as narrator.
Their lives are turned topsy-turvy with the arrival of Humpty’s prodigal daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), a curvy gangster’s moll on the run from her criminal husband, and this newer, younger model draws all the male attention away from Ginny. Humpty starts to pour all of his money and affection into his daughter, hoping to get her on the right track, while Mickey can’t help his attraction to her, despite his attempts to placate an increasingly hysterical Ginny.
“Wonder Wheel” is a self-consciously theatrical film. The sets seem as if on stage, as characters enter and deliver dramatic monologues. It feels like budget Tennessee Williams mashed up with a bad Neil Simon parody.
Allen and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro create a colorful, surreal look for the film. The lighting choices are bizarre, with colored gels changing rapidly within shots, morphing from orange to blue in a matter of seconds.
It’s hard not to wonder about the point of it all as Allen nitpicks over the way women fret over aging, painting Ginny as pathetic, jealous and clownish. It’s dull, unoriginal and offensive.
Frankly, we’ve have enough Woody Allen takes on this subject.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking. 1:41. AMC Classic.