Wonder Wheel is easily my favorite Woody Allen movie since the mid-1990s, and I count five of his movies as among the greatest ever made. Wonder Wheel is like Radio Days, September and Crimes and Misdemeanors all rolled into one movie, with a fantastic performance by Kate Winslet, as good as any of the great female performances in previous Allen movies.
Wonder Wheel is styled like a play filmed for TV, with colorful artificial lighting and stagey writing and acting, but the sharpness of Allen's script is revealed as it approaches its climax, culminating in a vicious unraveling, played brilliantly by Winslet, and shot with a surprising energy by Vittorio Storaro. Storaro's photography throughout Wonder Wheel is stunning, enshrouding the darkness of desire and deceit in a deceptively candied nostalgia; it's the most bold and exciting visual design of any Allen movie since possibly Manhattan, almost 40 years earlier.
Part of what thrilled me about Wonder Wheel is how personal it is. Allen has fallen far out of fashion due to the delayed fallout from accusations made during the disintegration of his relationship with Mia Farrow in the early 1990s. I've always thought that Blue Jasmine was a sideways slam on Farrow, imagining the actress spun by her own madness into a state of indigent insanity. By the end of Wonder Wheel, it was clear that this newer movie is an even more direct and scathing critique of Allen's former partner — it's Farrow recast as a twist on Mildred Pierce. It's not the work of a contrite man finally accepting the charges levied against him, but a defiant and gorgeously framed rejection of that narrative and the legacy of fires that have burned in its path.