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Wonder Wheel

Wonder Wheel 2

Woody Allen gives us fair warning: this period piece is a melodrama, a particular genre, he announces early on, that’s a force we must let flow as it demands. Apologetic as he is, Allen plunges into an area he doesn’t often go, a full on sweating tragedy. While the results are mixed, fans of the filmmaker will find this latest work worth a spin.

Set in the Coney Island of a 1950’s summer, the heat emanates from Ginny, a former actress turned clam house waitress. She yearns for more, but advisedly has married Humpty, the carousel operator who loves her enough to put up with her young pyromaniac son. Of course Ginny falls for the handsome lifeguard with dreams of his own. Somehow, Ginny keeps all her wheels spinning in the sticky air, but when Carolina, Humpty’s estranged daughter shows up, we know it’s all going to come tumbling down.

This set up is not a new one, but Allen handles it with patience, letting each scene build to its own crescendo. And, as separated as Justin Timberlake’s cool Mickey feels from all the drama that swirls around him, everybody else brings it, big time. Juno Temple is quite lovely as the young woman desperate to find a new start. And a surprising Jim Belushi goes full throttle as the cuckolded Humpty while, impressively, not falling into trite traps.

But the wonder here is Kate Winslet, who, fidgets and flourishes her way, somehow still giving a self-aware performance that is very much a performance but a fascinating one at that. How far will she go? Can she get through that big, emotional here’s-why-I-took-this-role ending scene with us still somehow on her side? It’s not an easy trick, but Winslet nails the landing, earning our asked for if silent applause.

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