Australian Council on Children and the Media

Wonder Wheel

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Short takes

Not recommended under 15 due to adult themes, sex scenes and violence

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Wonder Wheel
  • a review of Wonder Wheel completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 11 December 2017.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 15 Not recommended due to adult themes, sex scenes and violence
Viewers 15 and over OK for this age group, but with issues that parents may wish to discuss with children.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Wonder Wheel
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes, sex scenes and coarse language
Length 101 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Wonder Wheel is the name of a fun fair on Coney Island in New York City in the 1950’s. Mickey (Justin Timberlake) is a lifeguard on the island who tells the sad story of Humpty (Jim Belushi), the manager of the carousel, and his tragic wife Ginny (Kate Winslett). Ginny was a former actress with great hopes for the future but made the mistake of having an affair with her co-star, which led to her husband leaving 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, whom she felt saved her from being a lonely single mother.

Humpty, however, is a former alcoholic, who occasionally lapses back into drinking with violent results. Richie has his own problems because he doesn’t know who his real father is and hates Humpty who beats him when he gets angry. Consequently, Richie is a pyromaniac, constantly getting into trouble for lighting fires. Ginny, who also secretly drinks to help her cope, 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. Now she has realised the error of her ways, 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. This growing attraction between Mickey and Carolina causes Ginny to behave in increasingly bizarre and irrational ways and ultimately leads to her downfall.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

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

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Humpty and Ginny often argue and shout at each other. Humpty’s temper leads him to thump the table and smash things.
  • Humpty also 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’?

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

  •  Humpty is an overweight, loud and angry man who may scare young children

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

  • Richie is upset that he doesn’t know his real father and hates Humpty. His acting out by lighting fires is quite disturbing

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

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

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

  • 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 as he thinks head doctors are a waste of time).
  • The gangsters appear and one of the café workers 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 her. She wants to walk home by herself but that night she disappears.

Product placement

Coca Cola and Pepsi

Sexual references

  • Mickey says that Ginny’s body language reads ‘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.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • No actual nudity but both Ginny and Carolina wear very revealing dresses.
  • Humpty undresses down to his underwear and Ginny is seen wearing a see-through negligee in bed.
  • Ginny is seen in her underwear, putting on her stockings, whilc Mickey, undressed but covered by a sheet from the waist down, watches her.
  • Mickey and Ginny have sex under the boardwalk, fully clothed. They also have sex on the beach and at Mickey’s home though not much is shown.
  • Mickey and Ginny kiss passionately on several occasions.

Use of substances

  • Humpty is an alcoholic who occasionally manages to get his hands on a drink 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 Scotch in a row.
  • Many characters drink and smoke

Coarse language

  • frequent use of the words Jesus, Christ, Jesus Christ and God
  • goddamn; hell; screwed up; crap;
  • some name calling such as ‘punk’ and ‘imbecile’

In a nutshell

Wonder Wheel is a dark drama about flawed characters and their complicated lives. It is very intense and covers some heavy subjects including adulterous relationships and mental health issues. It is a very well told story in typical Woody Allen style, held together by the brilliant acting. 

The title and PG rating may suggest to parents that the film is OK for children. Although much is spoken about rather than played out on the screen, the themes in particular make it a movie for adults and it is not recommended for children under 15.

This movie raises a number of issues that parents may wish to discuss with older children, such as;

  • Why did Ginny marry a man she didn’t love? Were things much harder for single mothers in the 1950’s than they are today? Do single mothers have more choices these days?
  • Both Ginny and Humpty are living with the consequences of past mistakes, which have a bearing on their current situations.
  • Was Mickey right to take advantage of what he perceived to be a vulnerable and desperate woman?
  • Was Ginny right to steal money from Humpty regardless of what it was for?

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