Wonder Wheel

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Wonder Wheel Movie Poster Image
Adult themes in heavy but beautifully filmed drama.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 101 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This is a dark movie that isn't characterized by positive messages. Bad things happen to good people, though some at least attempt to come clean about difficult secrets and/or overcome pride to heal a family rift.

Positive Role Models & Representations

One character is actively trying to learn from past mistakes and take constructive steps to build a future. One is trying to help a family member and overcome alcoholism. But the others are involved in pretty bad stuff, from alcoholism to domestic abuse and more.


The violence -- reports of domestic abuse and mob killings -- takes place offscreen but has an impact. A presumed mob killing isn't shown but is meant to linger in the mind. A young character is a pyromaniac.


One scene of characters having sex in public; both partners are almost fully clothed. Less specific/adult talk of sex than typical in a Woody Allen film, but it's still present. An extramarital affair is key to the story, so viewers see several encounters beginning or ending (arriving at a bedroom, etc.).


Language isn't constant or extreme but includes "goddamn," "hell," "crap," "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation), a possible use of "f--k" (hard to be sure), and some name-calling and derogatory ethnic terms.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Virtually no drinking or smoking until the final third of the film, when characters crack under stress. Then there's drinking/drunkenness and stress smoking. The drinking, particularly, is presented negatively (one character is an alcoholic who's trying to overcome his addiction and history of domestic abuse). 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that although Woody Allen's dark drama Wonder Wheel doesn't have any nudity or on-screen violence, it's not intended for kids. It deals with serious themes of adultery, suicide, murder, and consequences for past actions. A couple has sex in public, almost fully clothed. Mob killings and domestic abuse are discussed/implied but not shown. The only child character is a pyromaniac who's headed for serious trouble. Drinking and smoking are presented negatively but are part of the building stress of the film's third act; language is infrequent but includes "hell" and "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation), as well as some insults and derogatory ethnic terms. As usual for an Allen film, it's packed with well-known actors, including Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, and Justin Timberlake.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byrichard l. December 20, 2017
Adult Written byMitchell W. December 18, 2017
Teen, 13 years old Written byDurant19 December 10, 2017


This a great movie has to much kissing but light on swearing drunk pepole

What's the story?

In 1950s Coney Island, Ginny (Kate Winslet), a frustrated one-time actress, is married to struggling-but-good Humpty (Jim Belushi), a man she doesn't love. Ginny's young son from her first marriage is traumatized by her past behavior, a situation that's reflected in his growing pyromania. Ginny meets Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a handsome lifeguard and aspiring playwright; sparks fly, and their affair begins. Then Humpty's daughter from his first marriage, Carolina (Juno Temple), arrives, on the run from her mobster husband. Complications ensue. 

Is it any good?

What Woody Allen and his collaborators have accomplished here -- in one of his darkest dramas, taking place in one of his brightest settings -- is beautiful ugliness. Wonder Wheel, named for the most famous attraction at the film's Coney Island location, is full of people haunted by their histories: infidelity, impulsive choices that led to criminal ties, alcoholism, domestic abuse, callous behavior that cost everything and traumatized children. They're all part of the drama that's framed by Mickey, the lifeguard/former sailor/playwright/leading man who narrates from an admittedly unreliable perspective. It's likely no accident that Mickey has some similarities with Tennessee Williams' characters, including Tom from The Glass Menagerie; Ginny (Winslet), too, isn't far removed from Williams' Blanche DuBois or Maggie the Cat. Winslet turns in one of the best performances of her great career, inhabiting Ginny's moments of soaring hope and painful deterioration. And Belushi delivers surely his finest work as the husband who at first seems like a drunken lout but then reveals a beating heart capable of change and love. Temple, too, has layers to reveal as the daughter on the run. These characters, plus Ginny's son (whose pyromania mirrors his mother's mania), are all locked in a drama that inextricably leads from the candy colors of a beach-set amusement park to somewhere unlit and starless.

Legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (known for Bernardo Bertolucci movies including The Last Tango in Paris and Francis Ford Coppola films including Apocalypse Now) rejoins Allen after Café Society to craft perhaps the richest visual world of the storied filmmaker's career. Storaro bathes scenes in dusky ambers and shades of blue; bold, colorful choices that make the scenes look painted. He brings new camera movement and framing to Allen's work, energizing it. Along with longtime Allen production designer Santo Loquasto, Storaro creates the feeling of being inside the beautifully crafted set of an Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill or Williams play -- clearly intentionally, in keeping with Mickey's playwright's perspective. That might also explain Allen's odd use of repetitive, almost amateurish dialogue in the film's first extended scene, possibly establishing this as the world of a young writer's mind. Wonder Wheel is perhaps Allen's most technically accomplished film, lush and delicious to view, though its darkness and morally asymmetrical universe will be a turnoff to some.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how infidelity is presented in Wonder Wheel. How does it compare to what you usually see? Are either of the adulterers virtuous in their own way? Are there consequences for their actions? Is either trustworthy?

  • Does this seem like a morality tale to you? Do the bad people get punished and the good ones get rewarded? Or is it morally uneven?

  • Do you sympathize with any of the characters? Did your mind change about any of them as the story goes on? Do you consider any of them role models?

  • How is this film similar to or different from Woody Allen's other movies? What do his films tend to have in common?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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