The Coney Island ferris wheel looms large in front of Ginny’s (Kate Winslet) and Humpty’s (Jim Belushi) living room window. It circles and turns, constantly in motion, like a watchful eye. An alcoholic who’s off and on the wagon, Humpty runs the carousel ride while his wife, Ginny, waitresses at Ruby’s Clam House. She describes their home in the noisy amusement park as a “honky-tonk fairyland” — and she wants out. Her son, from a failed first marriage, is a grade-school pyromaniac who gets caught lighting fires under the boardwalk. It’s no surprise that the drabness of Ginny’s life inspires migraines.
Wonder Wheel is Woody Allen’s homage to the playwright Eugene O’Neill and the movies that Sidney Lumet made out of them. In particular, Allen references The Iceman Cometh as his characters suffer from addiction, existential angst and working-class hardships. As Ginny descends further and further into her fantasy life, she recalls the addled majesty of Vivien Leigh in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire. The drawing of a red-headed mermaid on a clapboard sign suggests a version of her lost youth. Kazan paired Leigh with a commanding Marlon Brando. Allen, however, strands Kate Winslet with Belushi and Justin Timberlake. Neither is her imaginative equal nor do they hold her attention. Belushi only makes eye contact with the ground, whereas Timberlake never relaxes enough to even blink.
The film is rated PG-13.