Coney Island, once a place of great wonder, now growing seedier by the day”, can be read as a metaphor for the once lauded director Woody Allen, also growing seedier by the day. There seems to be only a small group left who push their moral judgements on Allen aside, continuing to return to the cinema to wishfully view his annual star-studded offering, but who are left with an unentertaining wheel of stories.
Allen’s work in the past few years has been unmemorable, such as the troubling Magic in the Moonlight (2014), which inappropriately (standard for Allen) paired the young Emma Stone as a romantic interest to Colin Firth. Despite egregious age gaps between men and their young love interests, Allen picks at several typical themes – territory so familiar that any viewer of Allen’s films can detect it from the opening credits.
In Wonder Wheel, we get an unsurprising triad of character tropes and sequences, from the ‘hysterical woman’ to the ‘humble and intelligent male artist’, and of course the conflict of the extramarital love affair love triangle complicated by a beautiful young woman. We see this story-line set-up in films dating back to Allen’s classics – think Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), or Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) – but lacking the quality which makes those films great.
It is films such as Allen’s classics that bring us to our knees in contemplation about disavowing Woody Allen from our lives, or which spark the ongoing ‘separate the artist from the art’ debates. Not, I would argue, his later body of work – films that feel rushed, overly familiar and chaotic.
Allen’s insistence on churning out one film a year for 50 years raises the question of people’s creative capacity and whether it’s possible to run out of ideas. In Allen’s last adorned film, Cate Blanchett won a well-deserved Academy Award for her work as a hysterical no-longer socialite in Blue Jasmine (2013).
That type of uncontrollable hysterical female character returns in Wonder Wheel through Kate Winslet’s character Ginny, an unhappy housewife having an affair with Timberlake’s Mickey, a young, optimistic ‘writer-type’. Winslet plays the descent into madness perfectly but, despite her performance, the film feels tired.
While Blue Jasmine was funny and engaging, watching another female creation of Allen’s imagination fall into a pit of unbelievable hysteria is exhausting and ultimately has no pay off.
Image: Pablo Costa Tirado via Wikimedia