The Wheel


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Wheel
"Midthunder is absolutely committed to her role and her ability to show us the turmoil beneath the surface, to make us care about the sort of person we might ordinarily go out of our way to avoid, is remarkable."

Carly (Bethany Anne Lind) and Ben (Nelson Lee) ordinarily make a point of not socialising with the people who come to stay in the cabin on their remote mountain property. This time, Carly wants to make an exception. She's worried about this young couple in the brink of divorce. They're very young and they seem to her to be quite lost. Ben is less convinced. He likes the husband well enough but the wife, in his opinion, needs an exorcist.

It's easy to see why he feels that way. Albee (Amber Midthunder) is continually aggressive, snapping at people around her, yelling at her husband Walker (Taylor Gray) or simply being mean for the sake of it. Getting close is risky for the older couple, who are planning to marry soon but are both prompted to question their commitment and trust in one another. So intense of Albee's destructive behaviour that viewers will wonder what on Earth Walker sees in her, and if they want to stay the course with this film. They should - all the way to the end - because in the meantime they will be given the opportunity to understand, and that's no small thing.

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Albee and Walker are both former foster kids. They met at the age of 12 and married at 16. There are tens of thousands of people out there like them, struggling to navigate relationships in the absence of any extended support system or positive adult role models; often carrying a lot of anger or other kinds of psychological damage. Walker understands Albee's burden; he can see the person she is underneath; but he's exhausted himself trying to cope with it for eight years. She's the only one who can change things, and she doesn't understand, growing increasingly frustrated with her inability to make him angry as if she thinks it means he doesn't really care, or as if she's terrified by the fact that he does. There's a void of loneliness behind her wall of cynicism. Carly is drawn to it, some protective instinct awakened by all that need. Walker is beginning to despair of ever breaking through.

The Wheel is an emotionally taxing film to watch; it must have been exhausting to perform. Midthunder is absolutely committed to her role and her ability to show us the turmoil beneath the surface, to make us care about the sort of person we might ordinarily go out of our way to avoid, is remarkable. There's some equally good supporting work, however, with Gray in particular bringing depth and dignity to a character whose passivity might otherwise be frustrating. Though much of what the couple are struggling with is left unexplained or addressed only at the end, he enables us to connect with that hidden, private world that exists within every relationship, that intimacy which can overwhelm those whose connection gives rise to it.

Screening as part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, this is more character study than romantic drama, yet it has more to say about relationships than most of the latter. At some point, whether or not the young couple will stay together ceases to be the most important question. What each needs to achieve is the understanding that it's a choice. By shifting focus like this, so that we are rooting for them rather than for their marriage, writer Trent Atkinson and director Steve Pink show us what the marriage has meant.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2021
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A couple go to stay in a mountain cabin to have one last go at saving their marriage.

Director: Steve Pink

Writer: Trent Atkinson

Starring: Amber Midthunder, Bethany Anne Lind, Taylor Gray, Nelson Lee

Year: 2021

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US


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