If nothing else, at least the worst theatrical film of 2010 had the decency to stink up theaters on the first regular opening weekend of the year. As a result, for the next fifty-one weeks or so, no matter how pretentious, clichéd, or cloying a film might be, each had the merit of not being Josh Goldin’s Wonderful World.
Ben Singer had a deal many professional musicians I know would take in a heartbeat. He was a successful children’s singer, whose record label indulged him by producing an album of his snoozy acoustic guitar noodlings. However, they released it without any marketing fanfare. In response to this supposedly heinous betrayal, Singer dropped out of the music business, taking a lowly proofreading job at a law firm (ironically working more for “The Man” than he had been before). Considering how many truly talented musicians I know that must self-finance every aspect of their CD production, distribution, and marketing, Singer’s delusion is not simply problematic, it is downright offensive.
Basically, Singer spends most of his free time smoking dope, which often produces hallucinations of “The Man,” personified by the craggy-faced Philip Baker Hall (a derivative device sure to remind the audience of the infinite superiority of Woody Allen’s films). Divorced from his wife (there’s a shocker), Singer does everything humanly possible to depress and otherwise alienate his daughter Sandra during their weekends together in scenes that ring uniformly false.
The only person who can stand him is his noble Senegalese roommate Ibou, who plays chess with the miserable creep until he mercifully falls into a diabetic coma. Then the film really gets really manipulative when Ibou’s worried sister Khadi moves in with Singer as she waits and hopes for her brother’s recovery. Of course, a relationship starts to develop between them, but if that sounds too hackneyed, don’t worry, the immature Singer is sure to sabotage things before too long.
World is the sort of film in which driving an SUV is the greatest imaginable sin. Truly, every tired convention from films like The Visitor is tossed on screen, but none of them work here. Unquestionably though, the film’s greatest problem is its protagonist, Ben Singer. As the angry-at-the-world guitarist, Matthew Broderick is completely unlikable, utterly unbelievable, and stupefyingly listless. Frankly, Broderick must take a long sabbatical from film as penitence, because nobody who sat through World will want to see him again for a long time. (Yes, this film even ruins Ferris Bueller and WarGames for viewers.)
In fact, the only cast member to distinguish themselves in this dreary exercise is the young Jodelle Ferland as his long-suffering daughter Sandra. Taking into account Ferland was also saddled with the same contrived screenplay as the rest of World’s embarrassed and embarrassing ensemble, her work is rather remarkable. As a result, she deserves to have this career-killer expunged from her permanent record.
To be able to make a living in music is a rare gift. To throw it away out of some misplaced contempt for corporate commercialism is an act of nauseating self-indulgence. Unfortunately, that is basically all you get from Singer and Goldin. After my screening of World ended, I turned to someone I know with vastly different political and aesthetic sensibilities to say: “that was awful.” His response was: “I don’t understand why this is being released.” It’s a head-scratcher alright. However, for the self-loathing hoping to catch a revival screening, I imagine it plays regularly in Guantanamo as part of the interrogation process. I’d rather be water-boarded. Happy New Year.