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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.).
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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.
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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).
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.