"Wonderful World" was written and directed by Joshua Goldin, his first directing project. It follows Ben Singer played by Matthew Broderick who is a really big pessimist. Ben had a successful career as a children's folk music singer, but after no one bought his acoustic album, he became jaded and withdrew from the world and spends his days in a boring, safe desk job proofreading papers. His best friend and roommate, Ibu (Michael Kenneth Williams) goes into a diabetic coma and Ben's world changes when Ibu's sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan) comes to stay with him while her brother is ill.
The movie feels very obvious in the opening sequences, yes, he's so pessimistic, no one invites him to parties because he's a Debbie Downer. He even says at one point that the two worst inventions were the TV remote and positive thinking. The movie really improves after more challenges are put into Ben's life through the absence of his friend, the introduction of a beautiful woman from Dakar, the diminishing relationship with his daughter, Sandra (Jodelle Ferland), and the loss of his job, and his attempt to sue the city for depraved indifference. Oh and not to mention, hallucinations of "The Man" (Philip Baker Hall) as an obstacle for him to mouth off to when he smokes weed. The simple life of sitting around playing chess is put on hold.
I had a hard time seeing Matthew Broderick who is excellent at oozing a positive attitude do such an about face here. It definitely plays more funny-grouchy than dark and I think that was the director's intentional choice. Everything he does still has a certain charisma, even when he's shutting others out.
Young Jodelle Ferland as his daughter was a great choice. When I looked her up on IMDB, I had to gasp because I knew I recognized her from something and it was "Kingdom Hospital", the Stephen King mini-series where she played the creepy little girl ghost! In this film, her character has a lot of self-doubts and she is shy and has trouble really communicating with her father even though she desperately wants to. Their estranged relationship begins to repair after interacting with Khadi and watching her gradual coming out of her shell was very sweet.
Sanaa Lathan as Khadi was a breath of fresh air. She really delved deep into the culture and came out looking and sounding so authentic. I didn't realize until the DVD extras that she was using an accent, it sounded amazingly good. The way she communicated and the way she moved really grab your attention and hold it in a good way, she almost glows as Ben begins to fall in love with her.
Ally Walker plays Ben's ex-wife, Eliza. I just recently saw her in "Toe to Toe" so another appearance so quick after so long not seeing her work was unexpected. Her role in "Toe to Toe" was so depressingly indifferent toward her daughter to an almost unrealistic level, but here she plays the opposite as a mother who is more overprotective of her daughter and before even asking her about her day, she assumes Ben has said something destructive to her again and shuts him out. On the flip side though, she has a great scene where she shows some vulnerability and reveals that while she isn't 100% happy with her new life, she prefers it to being dragged down on a daily basis.
I wish there had been more music in this movie! Broderick plays a little guitar in a scene, we hear a quick sample of his CD, and we don't hear him sing till the finale. It's just such soothing melodic acoustic guitar and I am tempted to try and find a soundtrack somewhere. My favorite quote in the film was "It's such a shame to be so talented at something no one cares about." When Ben performs his children's folk music finally, the kids are uncharacteristically ecstatic.
Looking at that group of kids, I really don't believe they would have been impressed by something so nice and pleasant with today's short attention spans. If he had been playing to a crowd in the 60s maybe, but today's kids would rather play outside or video games unless it's an ice show or Disney rock concert in front of them. That deviation from reality aside, it was still nice to see the character Ben get back to his roots eventually. Everything in this movie is a matter of perspective and some people might find that boring but I felt it all added up to a very pleasant movie. As he warms up to people and the idea of the world being a better place than he's seen it as of late, you too will be warmed watching it. I loved the exploration of another culture and the comparisons to America and making Ben enjoy the freedoms he has instead of criticizing his ex-wife for living in a big house with a big shot. I felt like the parting message here was a quote from a different movie, "Death to Smoochy", "You can't change the world, but you can make a dent." By changing his own corner, Ben finds a way to bring happiness to people around him again instead of misery.
There are three featurettes, "As Soon as Fish Fall Out of the Sky: Character and Story of Wonderful World", Working with the Director and with Matthew Broderick, and a Behind the scenes montage. All three are very short, probably two to three minutes a piece and are pieced together from interviews done with individual cast members. While more is explored about the characters in the first one, the director and actor one is just people heaping praise on them, and the montage is just shots of directing and camerawork put to music. A fourth featurette: "HDNet: A Look at Wonderful World" feels like one of those behind the scenes previews they play at my local movie theater and doesn't cover any new ground.