You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Wonderful World

Film has soulful qualities that have been compressed into a paint-by-numbers production.

Ben Singer - Matthew Broderick Khadi - Sanaa Lathan Ibu - Michael K. Williams Sandra - Jodelle Ferland "The Man" - Philip Baker Hall Cyril - Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Music may soothe the savage breast, but it doesn’t do much for the cynical mind in the uneven curmudgeon-redemption pic “Wonderful World.” Toplining Matthew Broderick, Joshua Goldin’s directing debut has soulful qualities that have been compressed into a paint-by-numbers production. Magnolia has set an early 2010 theatrical release for the pic, which preemed at Tribeca last March and has been rolling around the fest circuit without generating much enthusiasm. International prospects look strictly ancillary.

A divorced, dope-smoking, fleetingly popular composer of kiddie tunes, Ben Singer (Broderick) has fallen on hard times. He’s now eking out a living as a proofreader at a legal firm and sharing his one-room apartment with poor but philosophical Senegalese immigrant Ibou (Michael K. Williams). He’s not sleeping well, because Philip Baker Hall keeps appearing in his dreams as a spiritual guide whom Ben calls “the Man.” Ben’s sour demeanor alienates him from idealistic co-workers and, more importantly, his emotionally closed teenage daughter, Sandra (Jodelle Ferland).

Change comes when Ibou slips into a diabetic coma and his charismatic sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan), swings in from Senegal. A good guy at heart, Ben offers Ibou’s half of the room to Khadi as a temporary base, but still works hard at keeping himself isolated. As Khadi threatens to break down his psychic wall, “Accidental Tourist”-style, it’s obvious that the African interloper will be the agent of Ben’s spiritual turnaround.

Unfortunately, the film’s upbeat intentions are undermined by missing plot points: How does Khadi afford to fly in from Senegal if she is so poor? More importantly, how does stoner Ben manage to effortlessly ditch his obvious drug habit? Many details appear lost in a zealous but reckless edit designed to pick up the pace of Goldin’s occasionally maudlin script. Results are more messy than bad, and to its credit, the yarn isn’t Pollyanna all the way through. But though it introduces some tough realities, the pic’s optimism rarely feels genuine.

Goldin’s helming from scene to scene is functional, but he has a hard time assembling the film’s disparate parts. Broderick, meanwhile, clearing the fog from Ben’s shower mirror, reminds us that he’s been nailing this kind of character since his John Hughes days. (Notably, Broderick toplined Frances Veber’s 1992 “Out on a Limb,” which was scripted by Goldin and his twin brother, Daniel.)Williams’ Ibou is a warm foil for Ben’s cynicism, and New York-born Lathan works wonders with her turn as the Senegalese woman who brings Ben back from the brink (even as one wonders why she would want to).

Production values are pro on a budget. The most obvious sign of cost-cutting is an underdeveloped Shreveport, La., airstrip doubling for a Dakar airport.

Popular on Variety

Wonderful World

Production: A Magnolia Pictures release of an Ambush Entertainment, Cold Iron Pictures, K5 Intl. presentation of an Ambush Entertainment, Back Lot Pictures production. Produced by Miranda Bailey, Matthew Leutwyler, Glenn Williamson. Executive producer, Lampton Enochs. Co-producer, Julie Sandor. Directed, written by Joshua Goldin.

Crew: Camera (color), Daniel Shulman; editor, Jeff Canavan; music, Craig Richey; production designer, Kristin Bicksler; costume designer, Liz Staub; sound (Dolby Digital), Steve Neal; casting, Richard Mento; associate producer, Amanda Marshall. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (World Cinema), Oct. 12, 2009. (Also in Tribeca, Seattle, Deauville American film festivals.) Running time: 95 MIN.

Cast: Ben Singer - Matthew Broderick Khadi - Sanaa Lathan Ibu - Michael K. Williams Sandra - Jodelle Ferland "The Man" - Philip Baker Hall Cyril - Jesse Tyler Ferguson

More Scene

  • Michael Shannon Benedict Cumberbatch Tuppence Middleton

    How Martin Scorsese Saved 'Current War' From Harvey Weinstein

    Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon finally gets to release his version of his long-in-the-making “The Current War.” The film, about the competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, was originally set to be distributed by the Weinstein Company after Harvey Weinstein recut it, much to Gomez-Rejon’s chagrin. To make matters worse, Weinstein premiered the movie at the [...]

  • Law Roach Kiki Layne

    Law Roach, Kiki Layne Highlight the Serious Side of Fashion at InStyle Awards

    “I’m not supposed to be here,” stylist of the year honoree Law Roach told the well-heeled guests assembled Monday night for the 5th annual InStyle Awards. “Where I’m from, no one makes it to these rooms…and I stand here for two reasons right? One, that someone told me I was special; and two, that somebody [...]

  • Debra-Messing-Donald-Trump

    Debra Messing Lampoons Donald Trump in Play Based on Mueller Report

    Debra Messing portrayed President Donald Trump in an all-star play based on the Mueller report on Monday at Beverly Hills’ Saban Theatre. Wearing a light pant suit and sitting with legs spread confidently, Messing nailed Trump’s mannerisms in the one-night-only play, “You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up,” which raised funds for a Barbara Boxer-led PAC [...]

  • Kathryn Hahn Mrs. Fletcher

    Kathryn Hahn Talks Working With an Intimacy Coordinator on 'Mrs. Fletcher'

    HBO’s new comedy “Mrs. Fletcher” follows the journey of an empty-nester divorcee who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and sexual exploration following her son’s departure for college. At the series premiere on Monday night at the Avalon Hollywood in Los Angeles, Kathryn Hahn discussed playing the titular role of Eve Fletcher, a middle-aged woman [...]

  • Taika Waititi Natalie Portman SDCC 2019

    Natalie Portman Weighs in on 'Thor: Love and Thunder's' Possible Breast Cancer Storyline

    Natalie Portman doesn’t know if “Thor: Love and Thunder” will include a breast cancer storyline for her character Jane Foster, but she’s definitely intrigued by the possibility. “It’s just very rare that these kinds of big entertainment films look at more serious, real-life issues,” she told Variety at L.A. Dance Project’s 8th annual fundraising gala [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content