THE WHEEL REVIEW [TIFF FILM FESTIVAL]
THE WHEEL is a character study of two relationships. One is seemingly happy and stable and another is chaotic and seems headed for divorce. Directed by Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine 1 and 2, The Santa Clarita Diet) and starring Amber Midthunder (Legion) as Albee, Taylor Grey (Star Wars Rebels) as Walker, Bethany Ann Lind (Ozark, Doom Patrol) as Carly and Nelson Lee (Mulan) as Ben.
Here’s the trailer:
The married couple, Albee and Walker, seem to never stop arguing. Walker attempts to show Albee his unconditional love and acceptance and Albee rejects his attempts with cruelty and scorn. They are on the way to a house in the country to attempt to save their marriage because Walker insisted that they try one more time by using a marriage self help book. The couple arrives at the home and meets the couple that is renting the place to them who are a couple that seem happy. As Albee continues to cut through anyone who attempts to show her kindness, Walker, Carly, and Ben are forced to reassess the meaning of their lives and relationships.
Director Steve Pink has constructed a truthful and real drama that looks at the damage that is done to children through abuse and neglect and how it affects their lives and their relationships for the rest of their lives. It also is about relationships that are not fully committed to by all of the participants. One of the most subtle and realistic touches is how a specific character refuses to complete a task that was set by their partner and needs to be done to be ready for a very important event, but the character can’t bring themselves to honor the commitment and they are not consciously aware of why they are doing that. Even though the person seems committed and is vocally protective of their partner, inwardly that’s not the real story.
Part of what is so painful to watch is how frequently we don’t even know why we do certain things or refuse to do certain things. How our inner motivations sometimes show our real feelings that we hide from our loved ones and even hide from ourselves. Amber Midthunder’s character Albee is viciously spiteful to the devoted Walker. She loathes the only person who really cares about her because she doesn’t feel deserving of that love. The person she really hates is herself and her treatment of Walker is not only punishing him but a punishment to herself if she finally achieves the goal of driving him away for good. Walker is trying to fix things. His version of dealing with pain that is in his soul is to try and give the love that he feels that Albee really deserves to her. He wants to fix her and in a way, fix himself by finally succeeding in getting someone to respond to the love that his tormentors would not.
Carly and Ben seem happy but as they are forced to deal with the young couple, the cracks start to show. Is marriage really what they both want or is it simply something that they feel they should do because “it’s time”? It is a different version of the drama that consumes Albee and Walker. What do they really want from each other and what is it that their own individual and unresolved internal issues are making them less than truthful with themselves and each other.
Taylor Grey’s Walker is solid and devoted. When he says he’ll do something, he does it. He’s damaged but not so damaged that he is driven to hurt others. Midthunder’s performance is painful but great. Grey’s work is an equally deep but more subtle hurt. You feel for him even when he gets what he wants because you worry that it will hurt him even more. Bethany Ann Lind’s Carly is similar to Walker, but even more innocent. She seem genuinely kind and to have good motives for what she does and says. Ben as played by Nelson Lee is likable and protective of Carly, but has a touch of damage himself.
Writer Trent Atkinson (A Place To Call Home) has done a wonderful job of writing true to life characters who are interesting and poignant. You may not like Albee, I don’t, but I understand why she behaves this way. The script doesn’t hold back on her abuse to try and make her more likeable. She’s beautiful but poisonous, to herself and to others. I’ve met people like her.
Bella Gonzales’ (Endless) cinematography is quiet but well done. It’s not showy, but realistic like the story, with a natural beauty that reflects the love that some of the characters try to show to one another.
Overall, I think that THE WHEEL is a worthy chamber piece that has some very truthful things to say about human beings and relationships. It’s not goopy or sentimental, but has a bravery that showcases some truly unpleasant behavior in the service of showing you that even mean people have reasons and we all engage in behavior that we don’t truly understand or admit to ourselves.