WOODY WEDNESDAY Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’ spins a tale of despair By Calvin Wilson St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’ spins a tale of despair

Ginny (Kate Winslet) once dreamed of being an actress. And indeed, there’s something theatrical about the way she carries herself, as if she’s floating above the grit and grime of Coney Island in the 1950s. But the sad reality is that Ginny’s a waitress in a clam joint, and the only acting she gets to do is pretending that she’s not there.

Life at home isn’t much better. Ginny is married to the boorish Humpty (Jim Belushi), who has little appreciation for the finer things. And the situation only gets worse when Humpty’s estranged daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), shows up. On the lam from mobsters, Carolina is even more desperate than Ginny.

As if that weren’t enough for Ginny to deal with, her preteen son, Richie (Jack Gore), has gotten into the habit of setting fires when he’s not incurring the wrath of stepdad Humpty.

Watching from the sidelines is Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard and aspiring writer who gradually finds himself drawn into Ginny’s world. Something about her brings out the romantic in him.

Can Mickey rescue Ginny from her unhappy life? Perhaps a better question: Does he really want to?

Winslet is the main reason to see “Wonder Wheel,” a drama that finds writer-director Woody Allen exploring the possibilities of melodrama — but with qualified success. It’s often been said that Allen makes too many films, and his latest lacks the brilliance of his best work. There’s a staginess to the proceedings that keeps the viewer at an emotional distance.

But this tale of thwarted ambition and lowered expectations is an excellent showcase for Winslet. As Ginny, she’s a portrait of bottomless despair — yet you can also catch a glimmer of the woman who might have been. It’s a beautifully realized performance that’s generating Oscar buzz. Temple is also impressive as a refugee from unfortunate choices.

Like the fairground ride for which it’s named, “Wonder Wheel” is entertaining but not enlightening.

What “Wonder Wheel” • Three stars out of four • Run time 1:41 • Rating PG-13 • Content Thematic content including sexuality, language and smoking

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