Watched another of those ‘What the heck is this?’ movies last night and wasn’t at all disappointed. I sometimes pick up movies from the library shelves without a careful look at the back of the DVD case, figuring if it doesn't hold up I can turn it off and pick up a book. I’ve enjoyed one or two Matthew Broderick movies but will never forget him in the classic 1986 John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Last night’s feature was a long, long way from Ferris Bueller but I can still say I liked it.
Wonderful World (2009) was written and directed by Josh Goldin and stars Matthew Broderick, Sanaa Lathan and Michael Kenneth Williams. Ben Singer (Broderick) is a divorced, sort-of retired musician who shares an apartment with Ibou (Williams) a Senegalese immigrant. He is a confirmed misanthrope, a condition we are made to believe results from his divorce and from the failure of his recording career. The only person he really gets along with is his roommate, Ibou. Even the relationship with his young daughter is strained by Ben’s chronic cynic-sourpuss comments and reactions. Early into the story Ibou collapses and goes into a diabetic coma. His sister, Khadi arrives from Dakar and Ben offers her Ibou’s side of the apartment during her stay. In some ways like her brother, she is the catalyst which opens Ben’s eyes to a different view of the world. Both brother and sister are in touch with a positive and magical outlook on life, a perspective formed by the more primitive and animistic lifestyle of Africa.
It’s inevitable in these kinds of stories and we know—despite Ben’s initial resistance—that something is going to spark between Ben and his roommate’s beautiful sister (Sanaa Lathan). Predictable, but it serves as writer Goldin’s doorway to reigniting some primitive magic and love in his character’s sad life. One of the metaphors for magical joy in Wonderful World comes from a story told by Ibou of a downpour, rain falling from the sky in a shower of small fish. Always skeptical, Ben responds with a frown until that day he himself splashes through that unlikely joy. To the writer’s credit the story does not end exactly as we expect it to, and even with the spotty patches of too familiar storytelling the picture comes to a satisfying close.
Many of the clichés in the film, along with some staleness in the story of life-affirming Africans raising the jaded Westerner out of life’s depressing slump come with a good measure of redeeming attributes that steer the picture to its enjoyable end. A lot of the credit goes to Matthew Broderick for his finely tuned performance. Most would say he is working completely against type playing this character, but his talent as an actor shines. His two Tony Awards and a dozen or more nominations in film can’t all be flukes. Wonderful World also has going for it a memorable and toe-tapping score by Craig Richie and Dan Zanes. Broderick’s character is a one-time children’s singer-guitarist and his song near the film’s end is terrific. Don’t know who was dubbing the back room guitar sessions, but those too are some of the better parts of the picture. Beautiful acoustic guitar.
Judging from the box office results shown on IMDb, Wonderful World was a dismal flop. Any movie with an overall gross of less than $10,000 one week after its release is obviously in trouble, and it’s not too likely that much of the investment will be returned with the DVD release. I wondered a couple of times relevant to nothing where the film was shot, thinking it was Los Angeles because of something said in a couple of scenes. I learned on IMDb that the filming locations were in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Hard for me to encourage anyone running out and searching for this movie, but should you stumble upon it at the library or on one of the movie channels, grab some popcorn (or Chex Mix) and sit down for what I believe will be an enjoyable eighty-nine minutes.