The Wheel – Toronto 2021

Amber Midthunder (Albee) and Taylor Gray (Walker) in The Wheel. Courtesy of TIFF.

Filmmaker Steve Pink, notable for his comedy movies, departs from his usual genre and gives us an intimate drama with The Wheel.

This film is about two different couples and it focuses on them over one weekend. Albee (Amber Midthunder) and Walker (Taylor Gray) hope this mountain getaway will help save an eight-year marriage that could be over soon. The two of them got married as teenagers. They take advantage of what AirBnB has to offer and stay at the home of the newly engaged Ben (Nelson Lee) and Carly (Bethany Anne Lind). To no surprise, really, tensions are flowing all around. It’s pretty contagious in this picture because we don’t know if any of the relationships will make it. You feel for all four of them especially with the growing tensions. I would love to discuss the final minutes of the film but because of spoilers, I won’t.

I must get this out of the way right now: Albee uses the R slur in the film. Walker rightfully chews her out for doing so. This slur should never get a free pass. Nobody should be using it in any film if you want my opinion. Not now. Not ever. And while I’m not happy with its use in the film, screenwriter Trent Atkinson makes sure the character does not get a free pass. I wish I could say the same about other films! Anyway, Albee, as a person, is not the nicest. Maybe this is because of having a rough time growing up with a foster family? Quite possibly. Walker saved her from that hell when the two were married way too young at 16-years-old.

In terms of the cast, I love the performances from Amber Midthunder (The Ice Road) and Taylor Gray (Star Wars Rebels). Not only do they star in the film but they produce as well. They really capture a couple struggling to survive their marriage together. And while I’m not going to give away the ending, I hope this film resonates with an audience. It kind of makes up for knowing that Taylor Gray is not going to play a live-action Ezra Bridger.

There are no hot tub time machines nor is John Cusack in the film’s cast. It isn’t an understatement to say how intimate this drama is. It’s gut-wrenching at times. And again, it isn’t the sort of comedy we’re used to seeing from Steve Pink. Even though the film is not a comedy, he sure knows what he’s doing with the camera. You can look at it as a genre departure but certainly not a thematic departure. Take a look at the previous films and you’ll see similar themes at play. In fact, if you look at his own personal story, you’ll understand what drew him to direct the script (I’m not crying, you’re crying!)! I’m not sure that this is the type of film people want to watch during a pandemic. I think it’s a good film but the material may be potentially triggering for anyone with marital issues.

The Wheel may not be a traditional Steve Pink comedy but we get some beautiful performances in a smaller scale drama.

DIRECTOR: Steve Pink
SCREENWRITER: Trent Atkinson
CAST: Amber Midthunder, Taylor Gray, Bethany Anne Lind, Nelson Lee, Carly Nykanen, Kevin Pasdon

The Wheel holds its world premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival in the Contemporary World Cinema program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.