Relationships are hard. There are challenges that are unique to every pair of two people, especially when there’s something putting that relationship at a strain. The Wheel is at its best when it paints an honest picture through that lens.
Walker (Taylor Gray) and Albee (Amber Midthunder) got married when they were sixteen, but now it’s eight years later, and their relationship has never struggled more. We see them embark on a mountain getaway staying at an Airbnb following the advice of a couple self-help book to save what’s left of their marriage.
The characters are generally unlikeable, and that created a really awkward barrier between myself and the people in the story. The performances can be over the top and times, so they don’t always read as authentic. That’s a shame because The Wheel really works best when it’s showcasing what it’s like in a true relationship.
It is really ironic to think that Steve Pink, the same person who directed Hot Tub Time Machine, also directed this film, The Wheel. And that’s not at a slight to Hot Tub Time Machine. It’s just surprising that the former is such a comedic joyride while the latter is so depressing.
With songs from Phoebe Bridgers, Alabama Shakes, Van Morrison, Derek Simpson, Rayland Baxter, and more featured throughout, the songs themselves are inarguably great tracks, but they feel out of place at times. The songs feel like they lose their luster with how they’re used. They are incredible songs, so I just wish they were implemented in a more meaningful way.
I wish that the message of this film was overall more impactful. While I understand what the film was trying to go for in terms of illustrating a realistic depiction of the challenges that a couple can face at different points in their relationship, nothing about it felt new or like it had anything exciting to offer. The overly somber tone makes these 90 minutes feel much longer.
While some films are a little too reliant on exposition and spend far too long providing background, in this case, I needed to know just a little bit more about these characters’ past in order to truly understand them. That is what led to a real disconnect in many places of this film. Certain aspects of the young couple’s life are touched on with quick flashes of dialogue, but I craved just a little more explanation in those moments.
There is a one-take scene near the end that was easily the most raw and authentic moment of the entire movie. That one scene sums up precisely what I know the rest of the film was trying to accomplish, I just wish it figured out what it was trying to do sooner.
The Wheel premiered during the Toronto International Film Festival this year.