The movie's 1950s setting might give one hope that Allen's interested in nostalgically exploring his own childhood, as he did so appealingly in 1987's Radio Days.
It's not exactly clear whether "Wonder Wheel" is an ambitious homage to O'Neill or a blatant borrowing of his work. Instead, Wonder Wheel plays like recycled outtakes, such as the central conceit of the story primarily taking place next door to a carnival ride (note the echoes of Annie Hall's roller coaster). "Now I see rain through your eyes, and it's attractive", Ginny tells her lover, and, seriously, who can blame Winslet for not moving us with a line like that?
Things could have been on the up for Ginny when she meets Mickey on the beach and the pair embark on an affair. Instead, he gets the pretty boy but rather wooden actor, Justin Timberlake to play Mickey, an aspiring playwright and lifeguard who also narrates the story.
Humpty also has an offspring from an earlier marriage: Carolina (Juno Temple), who shows up on their doorstep unannounced, some five years after Humpty told Carolina he would never have anything to do with her when she married a mobbed-up punk. I want to be honest with you, Mickey, I'm a married woman, I married, Mickey, I feel odd mentioning it, not that you asked. Either way, it could be tough going for Allen's fans, since it's pitch black and has too much stilted dialogue and to little of Allen's signature quirkiness. But whatever flimsy charms Wonder Wheel possesses are so rickety that they end up being liabilities, like bad spokes on the famous Coney Island Ferris wheel from which the movie takes its name.
If she were surrounded by a better movie, there'd be much to talk about in Winslet's performance: how her voice gets subtly, endearingly higher during a drunk scene; how you can see hope drain from her face as if a plug suddenly were pulled; how she valiantly nearly sells a line like, "I hate it, this whole honky-tonk fairyland".
And even aside from the horrendous connections to real-life transgressions, Wonder Wheel is a mess. No other allegations of sexual misconduct have been brought against Allen, though the director was criticized for making what some perceived as a sympathetic statement about Weinstein. Belushi broods and thunders capably, though he's stuck playing Arthur Miller's Fred Flintstone.
But at least Storaro's back, this time with an audaciously artificial visual scheme leaning into the stagebound nature of Allen's script. Vocal Hall of Fame inductees (1998) The Mills Brothers chip in with "Coney Island Washboard", a song that coincides with numerous picture's early transitions until it gradually gives way to Vaughn Monroe's 1949 cover of "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" for the last third of the film. He uses more green screens than a "Star Wars" movie, framing this small, sordid tale within massive, postcard-perfect vistas, the tacky falseness of the images commenting on the rottenness at the core of surface nostalgia.
As he approaches 81, Woody Allen has lost a bit of his old 1970s-era zip, when he was arguably America's most inventive serio-comic cinema artist. (His idea of courtship always involves assigning homework.) There are plenty of exhausted riffs on the role of chance in a godless universe, and the lack of divine consequences for those who trespass. No charges were ever filed, and the reason is simple: "because Woody Allen is innocent". In Woody Allen's latest film this drama may be a wheel, but it also needs to have a point.
Farrow was seven when, according to her accounts, Allen got her alone in the attic and sexually assaulted her. (The director was never formally charged with a crime, and has consistently denied the allegations.) Since then, Dylan has been a writer and advocate for sexual assault survivors, and she has spoken out tirelessly about Allen having allegedly sexually abused her on numerous occasions, which lead to a massive rift in their family and the Hollywood community as a whole. There are no bombshells or confessions here. As the actor in the film, you just have to step away and say, I don't know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false.
This particular cultural moment, with new sexual abuse and assault allegations exposed daily, seems to be the reacting agent that's contaminated Allen's legacy for good.