Stories of relationship strife is a theme that’s been subject to exploration in film from every angle. A prime example would be 2006’s The Breakup, where Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston’s characters eventually grow out of each other. Forever is a heavy world that a union must bear – given factors each partner can’t control. The Wheel features Albee (Amber Midthunder) and Walker (Taylor Gray), a married couple who just crossed the eight-year mark and have been together since 16. Walker’s optimistic smile glances at Albee’s irritated cynicism as they drive to an Airbnb in the country. It’s a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, but clearly, one person is more invested in it than the other. Walker clearly thinks that the isolation from the bustling city of Los Angeles and a book with steps to help their marriage will do the trick. However, things aren’t as simple as relationships have different complexities, especially when the other person wants something different.
Upon arriving at their cozy abode for the weekend, they meet an engaged couple named Carly (Bethany Anne Lind) and Ben (Nelson Lee). On the surface, they seem like a quintessential pair. Carly is kind and accommodating, where Ben still has his ex-rockstar persona within him. As Carly asks Albee and Walker over for lunch, Ben wants to stay out of it. In a piece of dialogue, he states that the young couple’s negative stuff “to mess their stuff up.” For the basis of the film, it’s a poignant foreshadowing. Eventually, everyone’s wants and needs will be intertwined, where each partner will take a conventional step back.
Director Steve Pink and writer Trent Atkinson start The Wheel telegraphs the strife early. As the wedding day for Carly and Ben draws near, Ben has apprehension about building the homemade altar where the ceremony would take place. Albee would rather be anywhere else, often going to the security blanket of her phone or just been icy to Walter. Thus, Carly and Walter both find themselves at a crossroads. Walter commits to the questions and fixing the dysfunction, almost to a frustrating degree. Carly insists on helping Walter and Albee see things through, but Walter’s effort opens her eyes to her own void.
Pink and cinematographer Bella Gonzales looks to take advantage of the vast space provided in the woods. After intense scenes, there are often breaks of characters lost in contemplation on what to do next. Sometimes, they work as a bridge to let things breathe. Other times, they feel as though they can be unnecessary, small intermissions. While Carly and Ben’s pre-marital troubles have their time, the breadth of The Wheel‘s emotional pains and growth comes from the performances of Midthunder and Gray. As the film’s back half goes, the audience finds out the crux of Albee’s internal wounds. Most, which has nothing to do with Ben himself. While Wheel’s first half makes you want to scream at the scream for everybody to leave each other, the realizations after show you it’s not simple.
In the end, we’re led to a Ferris wheel with a beautiful continuous shot where Walter and Albee pour their hearts out to each other. Maybe Carly was a bit too eager to be the savior for their relationship. The fog from each of the couples’ stories lifts when they distance themselves from each other. Then The Wheel shows where it differentiates itself. The camera works that hang tight to characters’ faces, and at times, emphasizing the distance between them proves helpful to uplift the emotive rawness that comes later. Hurt people can hurt people, and if you don’t seek to confront the past, it can destroy the present and future. Once The Wheel gets out of its setup, it’s a personal expose of what people will suppress to keep perceived happiness and how broken pieces can make an imperfect whole.
Photo Credit: HURLEY/PICKLE PRODUCTIONS