Dear ﬁlmmakers: Will one of you please make a movie in which a rationalist is portrayed as happy and together—they exist! really!—while people of non-rational beliefs are shown as miserable and/or bat-shit insane? (They also exist! And in far greater numbers) The too-common opposite situation rears its head for the gazillionth time in the indie Wonderful World, which stars Matthew Broderick as a children’s musician-turned-grump on a slow but steady course to de-assholiﬁcation.
Ferris Bueller plays Ben Singer, a hardened cynic wallowing in a thankless copy editor job who can’t build up the necessary energy to hang with his estranged young daughter (Tideland’s great Jodelle Ferland) and receives stern visits from Philip Baker Hall when he gets high. How to redeem this prick?
Borrowing—okay, crassly pilfering—spare parts from The Visitor, Ben learns to care about others from homily-dispensing Senegalese roommate Ibu (The Wire’s Michael K. Williams, in a role arguably more humiliating than his starkers bit in The Road), who suffers a diabetic meltdown and winds up in a coma.
And he learns the rest of his lessons from Ibu’s sister Khadi (Sanaa Lathan), who arrives from Dakur and proceeds to show him kindness and inevitably work his bones. Soon enough, this jaded secularist is participating in healing rituals, speaking Wolof prayers and believing ﬁ sh can fall from the sky.
Singer’s road to recovery is, naturally, riddled with humiliations, with writer-director Joshua Goldin—who once upon a time co-wrote Sam Raimi’s pretty fantastic Darkman—dumping on his protag as often as he can. Ben gets to sit, sans umbrella, at a bus stop in torrential downpour and even winds up delivering a pizza to the boss who earlier ﬁ red him. (Incidental characters, by the way, tend to be comically heartless.)
At the head of an overqualiﬁed cast, Broderick is ill-cast as an unpleasant, bile-spewing pessimist, even going so far as to rock a four-day beard that, alas, suits him even less than the role itself. Broderick can be a good actor— perhaps 2010 will be the year we ﬁnally see him in Kenneth Lonergan’s infamously delayed Margaret, ﬁlmed in 2005—but as a relentlessly negative prick? Even Jackie Chan would be more convincing in the role. C-