By Australian Council on Children and the Media
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Wonder Wheel movie image (c) Amazon Studios
© Amazon Studios
This movie at a glance Move mouse over icons to see their meaning
  • Parental guidance recommended
  • Not recommended for children under 15
  • Suitable for children over 15
  • Contains disturbing or upsetting scenes
  • Contains coarse language
  • Contains sexual references or sexual scenes
  • Contains violence and scary scenes
Genre Drama
Length 101 minutes
Release Date 07/12/2017


Wonder Wheel is the name of a fun fair on Coney Island in New York City in the 1950s. Mickey (Justin Timberlake) is a lifeguard on the island. He tells the sad story of Humpty (Jim Belushi), the manager of the carousel, and his tragic wife, Ginny (Kate Winslet). Ginny is a former actress who had great hopes for her future. But she had an affair with her co-star, and her husband left her. Left on her own to bring up her son, Richie (Jack Gore), Ginny had a nervous breakdown, which ended her acting career. She got work as a waitress in a café on Coney Island, where she met Humpty. She feels Humpty has saved her from being a lonely single mother.

Humpty, however, is a former alcoholic, who occasionally lapses back into drinking with violent results. Richie doesn’t know who his real father is and hates Humpty, who beats him. Consequently, Richie is a pyromaniac, constantly getting into trouble for lighting fires. Ginny secretly drinks to cope. She bumps into Mickey one day while walking along the beach. Mickey identifies her as a vulnerable woman and starts an affair with her. Ginny falls madly in love with Mickey and sees him as the way out of her predicament.

Then Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s beautiful young daughter, turns up. Humpty and Carolina haven’t spoken for over five years because she married a gangster against Humpty’s wishes. She has now realised her mistake but is a marked woman in the gangster world. When Mickey meets Carolina, he instantly falls in love with her and Ginny is very jealous. The growing attraction between Mickey and Carolina causes Ginny to behave in increasingly bizarre and irrational ways and ultimately leads to her downfall.

Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.

Adultery and infidelity; mental health issues and threatened suicide; alcoholism; gangsters

Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.

Wonder Wheel has some violence. For example:

  • Humpty and Ginny often argue and shout at each other. When Humpty gets angry, he thumps the table and smashes things.
  • Humpty yells at his daughter and Richie.
  • Humpty threatens to kill Carolina’s husband if he turns up.
  • Ginny yells at Richie for lighting fires.
  • Ginny accuses Humpty of hitting her son.
  • Humpty threatens to ‘beat Richie’s brains out’ and ‘take his strap out and teach him a lesson he’ll never forget’.
  • Mickey and Ginny fight over Carolina.
  • Humpty physically attacks Ginny. They fight, and he smashes a bottle. She grabs a kitchen knife and says, ‘Why don’t you kill me?’

Content that may disturb children

Under 5
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Wonder Wheel has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example, Humpty is an overweight, loud and angry man, who might scare young children.

From 5-8
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, Wonder Wheel has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example, Richie is upset that he doesn’t know his real father and hates Humpty. He expresses his feelings by lighting fires, which is quite disturbing.

From 8-13
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Wonder Wheel has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • When Carolina turns up, Humpty yells at her and tells her he wants her gone.
  • Carolina describes how her husband used to push her around.
  • The gangsters turn up and start to stalk Carolina.

Over 13
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Wonder Wheel has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • Ginny thinks that her first husband might have killed himself.
  • Ginny steals $500 from Humpty to buy Mickey a watch for his birthday. Humpty is very angry when he finds out and blames Richie. Ginny tells him she took it to pay for psychiatric treatment for Richie. (Humpty refuses to pay for this because he thinks ‘head doctors’ are a waste of time).
  • The gangsters appear, and a café worker tells them where Carolina is. Ginny immediately rushes to the telephone booth to warn Carolina but changes her mind part-way through the phone call.
  • Mickey tells Carolina about the affair with Ginny, which upsets Carolina. She wants to walk home by herself, but that night she disappears.

Sexual references

Wonder Wheel has some sexual references, For example:

  • Mickey says that Ginny’s body language tells him she is ‘vulnerable and desperate’.
  • Mickey tells Ginny it’s not the first time he’s had sex with a married woman.
  • Ginny talks about how she ended up in bed with another actor, although she loved her husband.
  • Ginny tells Mickey she’ll ‘go off’ anywhere he wants her to.
  • Carolina (who doesn’t know about the affair) tells Ginny that Mickey was very charming and flirtatious with her.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Wonder Wheel shows some use of substances. For example:

  • Humpty is an alcoholic who sometimes goes back to drinking, although Ginny does her best to stop him. When he drinks he becomes violent.
  • Ginny also drinks surreptitiously and keeps a bottle of whisky hidden in the cupboard. Richie sees her drink three glasses of whisky in a row.
  • Many characters drink and smoke.

Nudity and sexual activity

Wonder Wheel shows some partial nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • Both Ginny and Carolina wear very revealing dresses.
  • Humpty undresses down to his underwear, and Ginny wears a transparent negligee in bed.
  • Ginny is seen in her underwear, putting on her stockings. Mickey watches her. He is undressed but covered by a sheet from the waist down.
  • Mickey and Ginny have sex under the boardwalk, fully clothed. They also have sex on the beach and at Mickey’s home, although not much is shown.
  • Mickey and Ginny kiss passionately several times.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in Wonder Wheel: Coca Cola and Pepsi

Coarse language

Wonder Wheel has some coarse language, profanity and name-calling.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Wonder Wheel has some coarse language, profanity and name-calling.

  • Last Reviewed 2017-12-15