“If the glass is half empty, at least you can’t drown.”
When I looked at the title and description of this film I couldn’t help but think of that Jimmy Stewart classic It’s A Wonderful Life. I’m not sure if it is the close title or the idea of a cynical man finding some kind of epiphany about his life and how he interacts with others. So, maybe it was that connection and inevitable comparison and expectation that caused me to dislike this film as much as I did. It’s not fair, you might say, but it is the filmmakers themselves who invite this comparison and apparently welcome it. I’m sure the idea was that it would bring in that particularly large audience of viewers. Unfortunately, it was more of an anchor providing a standard that Wonderful World simply can’t meet. But let’s forget the comparisons for a moment. This is still a pretty bad film. It made its run of the film festival circuit for a time and even managed a very limited American box office run which barely grossed nine grand in total.
Ben Singer (Broderick) was once a popular singer/songwriter of children’s songs. We’re told he was once third in the country in popularity. But life has gone downhill for Ben. He’s divorced with a young daughter, Sandra (Ferland) who he only sees on some weekends. He now works, apparently for peanuts, as a proofreader. He’s quite the cynic. He doesn’t really fraternize with his co-workers, and even his own daughter is tired of his negativity and is avoiding him on his scheduled visits with her. His only real relationship is his roommate a Senegal native named Ibu (Williams). The two enjoy playing chess and discussing game theory. But Ibu is much better and always wins. Ibu is a diabetic and ends up in a coma when a tow truck driver takes off with Ben’s car, even after being told there was a medical emergency. Things look bad for Ibu, and Ben’s life begins to sink even deeper into his own dark abyss. That is, until Ibu’s sister Khadi (Lathan) arrives for her sick brother. Ben allows her to stay in his apartment, and the two begin to share an awkward closeness. As Ibu struggles for his actual life, Ben is struggling for his own.
There are so many problems here that it’s hard to decide where to begin. Let’s start with Matthew Broderick and his character. We get that Ben is this super-cynical guy. Yet it’s only through what amount to throwaway lines that the message is brought across. Broderick never displays the passion that true cynics have for their negative philosophy. He plays more as a stoic zombie going through the motions of living. His actions don’t even do much to reinforce his attitude. He’s actually quite giving. Even though the apartment he shares with Ibu is his, he allows Ibu the bedroom and elects to sleep behind a curtain in a small bed. He’s generous with his daughter and appears to genuinely love and care for her. The fact that he quickly takes to Khadi and offers the level of help that he does also goes against the grain of what we’re supposed to believe about Ben. The writers appear to believe that throwing in some cynical catch phrases is enough to sell the character. It isn’t. Ben is numb, for the most part.
The second major flaw in this film has to be found in its pacing. For too long nothing really happens. We watch Ben go through quite mundane aspects of his life in an almost agonizing slow motion. I could not have been more frustrated with the attention to irrelevant minutia and the lack of detail given to any of the important elements of the story. But, the script is not just slow and empty. The dialog is so unnatural that even the talented members of the cast had a hard time delivering them with any real power or feeling. The script appears stuck somewhere. If you’ve ever been stuck in the snow (or sand), you know what it’s like to have your tires spinning uselessly. This film goes nowhere slowly.
There are two genuine bright spots in this otherwise incredibly dull film. They come in the performances of Michael K. Williams as Ibu and young Jodelle Ferland as Ben’s daughter, Sandra. If you’re a fellow fan of The Wire, you know who Williams is. He played one of the best characters to grace our television screens in recent years, Omar Little. Ask Omar what he did for a living and he’ll tell you: “I robs drug dealers”. While Williams has little to do here and spends more than half of the film in a coma, he manages to shine, just a little, through the muck. Ferland is a bright young actress with a lot of promise. It might have helped that she was too young to know how bad a movie she was really in. Her natural talent just jumps from the screen, and she provides the only real emotional character in the film. Her disappointment and conflicting feelings for her father are so evident here that she almost appears out of place. Imagine what she will be able to do when she gets her chops on a good movie and a well written part.
Wonderful World is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. The image is somewhat inconsistent, and it’s a total mystery to me why that might be. There isn’t much of a change of location until the final 10 minutes of the film, but we get what almost appear intentional changes in softness and sharpness. There are moments when this film is razor sharp. There are others when the picture is almost slightly out of focus. Perhaps there was a stylistic reason for this, but I can’t figure it out. Colors are, for the most part, completely realistic. There’s a sepia tone that seeps into the picture from time to time, perhaps to express a kind of mood. Black levels are average for a high definition release.
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 is called upon to do very little, and it certainly meets the call. This is a very quiet film, often absolutely silent. Dialog is almost always very low key and not easy to decipher all of the time. Thank God for subtitles. There is a thunderstorm at the end of the film that actually brings your surrounds and sub to life for the only time in the movie.
Perhaps I got a bad disc. I don’t know. I was unable to access many of the features. The cursor in the menu moved so quickly that it was absolutely impossible for me to stop on the features that I wanted. After several minutes of frustration and even rebooting the disc, I gave up.
This one is strictly for the film festival crowd, and I wouldn’t give it too much attention otherwise. The film plays it safe the entire way so that almost nothing within stands out. The players are being careful not to expose too much emotion. It reminds me of some of the fruit we have these days. The film points this out itself. Take tomatoes, for instance. They grow faster. They ripen quicker. And, they are grown to enormous sizes. And, the only thing lost along the way is its taste. Wonderful World is a lot like that tomato. “Genetically engineered not to bruise.”