Thursday, January 07, 2010

Indie Angst: Wonderful World

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 Ben Singer, the unbearably whiny protagonist of Josh Goldin’s Wonderful World (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

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 recording an album of his acoustic guitar noodlings. However, they released it without any marketing fanfare. In response to this 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, Singer’s delusion of victimhood absolutely turns my stomach.

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. 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 falls into a diabetic coma. Then the film really gets 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 the greatest imaginable sin is driving an SUV. 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, who should be beaten over the head with a two-by-four. As the angry-at-the-world guitarist, Matthew Broderick is both completely unlikable and utterly unbelievable. In fact, the only cast member to distinguish themselves in this dreary exercise is the young Jodelle Ferland as his long-suffering daughter Sandra. Based on her work here, she deserves other, better parts. However, Broderick should definitely take a long sabbatical from film.

While rocker turned kiddie rocker Dan Zanes’s music is actually reasonably pleasant, the film itself is just a long, slow mess. Ultimately, World is a shallow mélange of self-righteous leftwing clichés, delivered without energy or style. It opens Friday (1/8) at the Cinema Village, but you’ve been warned.