Written and directed by Paul Starkman, dreaming of a better future, a young DJ confronts his family struggles in the streets of Brooklyn. Starring: Arnstar, Shyrley Rodriguez, Joshua Boone, Kareem Savinon, Ioan Delice and Dorothi Fox.
It’s a tale as old as time, a young person determined to make the future for themself that their heart desires and for Max (Arnstar), that’s being a DJ. This story is one built around family, loyalty and determination, its message is one of staying on the right path, working hard and caring for the people you love. In that sense it builds a surprisingly wholesome atmosphere, it’s sweet, romantic and sentimental, it dips its toes into crime but always stops itself before any darkness makes its way into the story. That choice has both benefits and drawbacks, it continues a very family friendly tone but at the same time stops it from making a more emotional impact by shying away from the harsher realities that its story would likely encounter. It stays within a fairly neat box and it would have been great to see the story branch out more or take a few risks. It’s a similar case with the dialogue, it feels very stereotypical of what someone like these characters might say rather than feeling natural.
The direction reflects that romantic tone, the way that Starkman captures the city feels very nostalgic, hitting familiar notes in its editing and variety of shots, to get that quintessential New York aesthetic. It’s something that’s certainly helped by the choice to use black and white, it adds a nice texture to the visual and feeds well into its humble atmosphere. However, it does feel like the film might have benefited from using colour, having such a youth filled story, it could have added more energy and vivacity to it.
Arnstar’s performance as Max is charmingly naïve but sincere, the story can get overly sentimental at times but he manages to keep it convincing and grounded. The character is a bit goofy and terrible at flirting, which gives the character a more relatable edge, he has plenty of confidence but never oversteps the line. He has a good chemistry with Rodriguez, they’re bubbly and cute together, she gives a solid performance as Liza, and it would have been great to delve into her character even further. Boone doesn’t get too complicated of a role to get his teeth into here but it’s a satisfying coincidence that the film has a touch of similarity to Premature (2019) which Boone also starred in. His character hits a lot of familiar notes and follows a very obvious path but he does manage to bring a surprising amount of emotion through in spite of that. Its local thug characters don’t fare so well, they come across as trying too hard to be menacing and could have pulled back slightly.
Wheels has a big heart and weaves its tale of family, love and determination through the streets of Brooklyn. It wears that heart on its sleeve a little too much, it takes a very romantic tone and it would have been great to see it take more risks. Its visual feels like a love letter to Brooklyn but its story is missing a more unique quality.