Love and a cough cannot be hidden.
On the gorgeous Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard narrator tells of his twisted and tragic love story torn between a married woman and her step-daughter.
As an ex-actress, Ginny thought she could pretend to endure the ugly husband and humdrum life until her encounter with Mickey, a handsome lifeguard and playwright with a hopelessly romantic heart, and fell head over heels in love with him.
As a carousel operator, Humpty was contented with his present under the delusion that he could provide his beautiful yet beleaguered wife a happy life. But when his daughter Carolina showed up at the door out of the blue, life was turned upside down as problems arose like daily expenses, mood swings and trouble makers.
As a lifeguard, Mickey thought he could save lives at sea and also women from forlorn love and marriage. However, even he himself was confused about his emotions towards a middle-aged woman unsatisfied with love and life as well as a young lady with a dramatic and traumatic past.
As a child from the ex-wife, Carolina married the wrong guy with her life on the line. She thought her father was the one and only one left to save her from the misery. Her life was almost back to normal when she and Mickey fell in love at first sight while Mickey was still dating her step-mother Ginny and keeping both in the dark. Out of jealousy, Ginny lost her sanity and destroyed everything.
As a child from the ex-husband, Richie could seek love and care from neither of his present parents. Setting fire and watching movies have been his hobbies and a haven of solace despite countless efforts of shrinks.
It's fantastic to have rosy dreams towards life, so long as they don't outweigh reality otherwise they would be pathetic and doomed to fail. A wonder wheel is a symbol of romance, love and larger-than-life expectations. Legend has it that when two kiss at the acme of a wonder wheel, the love between them will last forever. In the end of this movie, everyone's back to where they started, just like circles turned by a wonder wheel:
Ginny didn't prevent the gangsters from chasing Carolina out of jealousy of their fireworks. Her affair with Mickey was over completely. So she had to go on her marriage with Humpty though neither could have felt the same.
Mickey didn't succeed in hooking up with either the woman at her hot age or the lady at the prime of life.
Carolina was captured by gangsters and nowhere to be found.
Richie set another fire with a fixed gaze upon the rising flames.
We all looked up high in the sky and longed for a wonder wheel in life, desperately grasping for something too good to be true, but a down-to-earth attitude is called for in face of reality. Love, in particular, demands a somber mind. Lose your mind, you will lose the delicate balance of love and your control over life and fate.