TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Director Steve Pink’s intimate drama The Wheel is a difficult film to provide too many story elements. However, it’s not because Hitchcockian twists abound. In fact, it is refreshingly straightforward in its narrative of a couple on the brink of a breakup. Yet as they navigate through their emotional minefields, aspects of their relationship are brought to the fore, which shift our initial perspectives of the characters, resulting in a rich, raw look at the complexities of love and being loved.
Taylor Gray plays Walker, a young man who is desperate to save his marriage and springs for a remote Airbnb cabin so that the couple can potentially work out their differences in a last-ditch effort to patch their frayed relationship. Amber Midthunder is Albee, his waifish wife, who seems alternately hassled, doubtful, and bothered by the whole idea.
They arrive at the home, appointed with all the accouterments straight out of an HGTV marathon. Once there, they meet owner/host Carly (Bethany Anne Lind), who seems to have gone above and beyond to create the illusion of an idyllic getaway spot. Her earnest attempts of sincere hospitality are no match for the sarcastic hostility displayed by Albee, who views the entire endeavor as an exercise in futility.
Undeterred, Carly heads back to her neighboring home with her finance Ben (Nelson Lee) and revises her plan to provide cordiality to her guests while the two finalize plans for their own upcoming wedding.
“…a remote Airbnb cabin so that the couple can potentially work out their differences…”
Writer Trent Atkinson’s decision to name one of his leads “Albee” should give audiences a hint that they are in for a modern dissection of relationships along the lines of the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” filled with all the delicate intricacies and overwhelming emotions rolled into relationships and marriage.
It is a marked departure from Pink, who wrote the beloved Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, which both relied on broader, comedic approaches to romantic liaisons. And it’s a far cry from his maniacally merry directorial effort Hot Tub Time Machine.
But just as in all his previous work, there is an oversized heart beating at the center of The Wheel, which is fueled by a quartet of nuanced, nakedly open performances from its cast. In particular, Gray is endearingly earnest and resolute as Walker, and Lind is delicately determined as Carly,
Yet the standout is Midthunder, who can initially be seen as abrasive and petulant. As the plot turns, though, our understanding of her temperament becomes increasingly clear, revealing a long-gestating ache behind her anger. Her Albee is a complicated character and one that could easily be written off for her hostility. But Midthunder captivates with her every awkward shift and gesture and delivers in each and every scene.
The final scene upon a titular wheel is a one-take wonder of acting between her and Grey, as they circle around in an emotionally exhausting ride.
Throughout, the film is an idiosyncratic mediation on a pesky emotion that can simultaneously bond us and tear us apart. And with Pink and his exquisite cast behind The Wheel, the audience is in great hands.
The Wheel screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.