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Wonder Wheel was Woody Allen's 2017 film starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake as two people with a bit of an age gap who start an affair before one of them decides to get together with the other one's younger daughter. If this plot rings any bells, by the way, you've successfully pinpointed the first troubling aspect of this movie.

As the world increasingly struggles to separate artists from their, often less-than-remarkable, and sometimes just plain odious, personal lives, it was a bit of a blind gamble for Allen to release a film like Wonder Wheel. A film that, if not consciously, subconsciously evokes the allegations surrounding the celebrated auteur and his daughter Dylan Farrow. Then again, if you've convinced yourself that you have done nothing wrong, why would you bother avoiding certain subtexts? On the surface, Wonder Wheel is your typical Tennessee Williams-style melodrama about people making bad decisions leading them to some ironic tragedy. The film looks pretty, the likes of Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi and Juno Temple give solid performances and the whole thing feels like a beautifully shot stage play. Unfortunately, this is where the film's strengths begin and end: below the surface, Wonder Wheel is an ugly and unpleasant movie that aims to raise moral questions à la Crimes & Misdemeanors but in a cute way without ever being clever, funny or charming enough to pull off any of it and, in fact, unwittingly raising the director's own moral shortcomings in the process.

Even putting Woody Allen himself aside, Wonder Wheel is just not good enough at telling even its simple story. This is a frankly predictable movie about thoroughly dislikable (and underwritten) characters who make selfish decisions throughout with the more innocent ones becoming martyrs in the end. We're meant to judge Ginny (Winslet) over and over then question her motives in the denouement but at no point does Mickey (Timberlake) receive any criticism for causing all the problems that the characters face. Timberlake is given your typical fourth-wall-breaking "Woody role" and he not only struggles constantly with the wordy script but he gives such an overall bland and soulless performance that he easily comes off as the most unappealing character in the film. So when Mickey shows up to judge Ginny's actions at the end of the film, you'll find yourself siding with no-one and wondering why you even sat through this whole thing to begin with. Add to that a tone that yo-yo's unconvincingly between comedy and drama, a poor use of its titular setting, uninventive storytelling, overly familiar themes and you've got yourself one of Woody Allen's worst films.

There's something deeply heartbreaking about a once loveable artist being revealed to be possibly a bad person in real life but seeing an artist of Allen's calibre, who usually delivers something at least competent and interesting or charming, give us something as slight and clumsy as Wonder Wheel adds another layer of disappointment that might just make it impossible for him to recover from.

Not recommended.

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