“Wonder Wheel,” Woody Allen’s latest movie, is one of his more unfortunate contributions to cinema. It tells the story of a desperately, unhappily married woman whose affair with a local Romeo is derailed when he takes notice of her stepdaughter, whose breasts have been lit to glow like Vermeer peaches. The heart wants what it wants, as Mr. Allen once said by way of explaining his affair with his now wife, Soon-Yi, the daughter of his longtime ex, Mia Farrow. I tend to think it’s a bad idea to put a movie on the couch, but what if it climbs on the couch and then starts winking?
“Wonder Wheel” returns Mr. Allen to Coney Island, the childhood home of his alter ego Alvy Singer, the narrator of “Annie Hall” who claims to have grown up under the amusement park’s roller coaster. (“I have some trouble between fantasy and reality,” Alvy says.) In “Wonder Wheel,” the sad wife, Ginny (Kate Winslet), lives in an apartment that looks directly onto the park’s looming Ferris wheel. The attraction obscures her view of the ocean, literalizing already narrow horizons, and casts deep, expressionistic blue and red light on the apartment’s dilapidated interior and its equally worn inhabitants.
Ginny isn’t all used up, despite the insistently unflattering way she is often presented. She winces and frowns a lot, and the camera conspires with the lighting and makeup to catch every twitch of distress, and the sweaty, oily sheen she never seems able to blot away. It’s no surprise that she’s worried. She works in a clam house on the boardwalk, scrambling for hoi polloi, while back at home she has to juggle her loud, loutish husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), and her son, Richie (Jack Gore). Like the young Alvy in “Annie Hall,” Richie is a redhead. But while Alvy is depressed about the universe, Richie seems largely troubled by his home life, specifically his demonstrably miserable mother.