Cynicism is a major component of "Wonderful World," detailing how it can hold a life back from the smaller pleasures of the universe, offering false comfort to those less openhearted. It's a mood exhaled into "Wonderful World" with overwhelming vigor at times, capturing the curdled nature of the lead character with unnerving accuracy. For this alone, the picture deserves a look. Perhaps not the strongest, most refined offering of drama as of late, "Wonderful World" digs up a few choice moments of behavioral authenticity to make a lasting impression.
Ben Singer (Matthew Broderick) was a once mighty force in the world of youth entertainment, finding his music career shut down by the greedy side of the business. Now a legal proofreader trying to stay involved in the life of his pre-teen daughter (Jodelle Ferland), Ben finds comfort in the friendship formed with his Senegalese roommate, Ibu (a wonderfully soulful turn by Michael K. Williams). When Ibu falls into a diabetic coma, his sister Khadi (Sanaa Lathan) arrives from Africa for support, infiltrating Ben's bleak worldview with her foreign optimism and rural wisdom. The two soon strike up a relationship, which challenges Ben's passion for discomfort, opening him up to the possibly of a life lived with a sliver of hope.
Written and directed by Joshua Goldin (amazingly, the co-screenwriter of "Darkman" and Broderick's 1992 flop, "Out on a Limb"), "Wonderful World" is a reserved, lightweight picture that assumes the rather bulky weight of pessimism. Ben's world is one in constant combat with "The Man" (played by Philip Baker Hall), who often visits the cynic during his dreams to remind the schlub who truly controls the weight of the world, pressing down even harder on his despondency. Ben is miserable, burned long ago by an industry he trusted, resigned to a life where manipulation and corruption is found everywhere he looks, poisoning his relationships with loved ones.
Goldin sustains this dread vividly throughout most of "Wonderful World," employing Broderick's gift for conveying convincing melancholy to terrific use. The picture isn't a depressing sit, but it does touch on a reality of contempt that feels uncomfortably authentic. For the first half, Goldin scripts an engrossing journey of depression for Ben that flows naturally, building the character as a plausible curmudgeon who wants nothing from his fellow man. For 45 minutes, "Wonderful World" shoots straight and constructs an atmosphere of social objection that's digestible and, frankly, sometimes easy to agree with.
Once Khadi enters the picture, the script takes a few sharp turns toward redemption that feel rushed, though Lathan's performance is relaxed and brings around interesting chemistry with Broderick. Still, melodrama soon floods into the proceedings and Goldin gets grabby with character arcs, looking to tie together altered worldviews in only a few clunky moves. The short running time (85 minutes) is appreciated, but "Wonderful World" reaches beyond its grasp in the second half, bursting the compelling mood it was building with such clear-eyed direction.
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) retains a healthy grain structure, which lends a comforting film-like quality to the presentation. Colors are settled and appropriate, with oranges and browns dominating the visual scheme, always rich and full to encourage the atmosphere within locations. Facial detail is terrific (the scar running across Williams's face is in clear view, helping to underscore the character's sadness), along with set dimension, showing off the claustrophobia of the hospital sequences. Skintones register naturally and shadow detail is crisp.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is gentle and modest, keeping in step with the feature film's low-key attitude. Outdoor sequences allow from some surround activity, along with nightclub sequences. Overall, it's a frontal track with nice dialogue clarity and easygoing scoring selections, mostly falling into acoustic moods that are warmly guided through the mix. While tensions do accelerate as the film nears its conclusion, the track keeps a level head with no audible hiccups.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
"As Soon as Fish Fall Out of the Sky: Character and Story of 'Wonderful World'" (4:32) interviews the principal cast members, who underline character perspectives and backstory, often stating the obvious.
"Behind the Scenes: Working with Writer/Director Josh Goldin and Actor Matthew Broderick" (1:30) briefly showcases the respect paid to the director and the star from the cast, with co-star Ferland proclaiming her love for "Inspector Gadget."
"Behind the Scenes Montage" (1:28) shows a glimpse of life on the set, observing a few moments from a single day of shooting.
"HDNet: A Look at 'Wonderful World'" (4:41) is the most directly promotional piece on the BD, with cast and crew exploring character motivation and production involvement. This remains the only featurette on the disc where Goldin speaks about his own film.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included
It takes some digging, but there are a few nuggets of emotional clarity within "Wonderful World" that makes it worth a sit, along with the chance to spy a nice ensemble of actors able to nudge some life into Goldin's screenplay. The switch from gloom to hope is jarring, but the messages of community appreciation and self-worth are humane and worth the moviegoing time invested.