Wonderful World, the directorial debut of Darkman scripter Joshua Goldin, is ironically titled because its lead character is a first-class pessimist. When we’re introduced to Ben (Matthew Broderick), he’s staring at his dour reflection in the bathroom mirror. Then he heads off to spoil the mood at his job as a proofreader—a pro at finding mistakes!—telling his astounded young co-workers that he’s been there for eight years and they shouldn’t believe that even getting a break in the entertainment business is a step up: “Same old crap in a new package,” he says. “You’ll still be working for the Man.” Then he ruins a night out with his daughter by bitching instead of listening to her. And then he goes home to the apartment he shares with Ibu, his cheery Senegalese roommate, where they play chess and Ben pisses on Ibu’s idea of how “game theory” can positively apply to friendship.
The diabetic Ibu (Michael K. Williams, doing a generic and nearly unintelligible African accent) has to interrupt their game because of a “glucose spike.” And after all its early hammering about Ben having a bad attitude, you just know that Wonderful World will soon suffer the same.
Goldin’s film has a worthy message about perspective and choosing to see the good things in life. It’s so tritely and shallowly conveyed, though, that even at a mere hour-and-a-half, the story is intolerable. Broderick, looking tired, has proved in 2008’s Finding Amanda that he’s quite capable of portraying a loser whom you nonetheless root for and might even find charming. But Goldin gives him only one characteristic to play with—never have I scribbled “asshole” so often in my notes—and, worse, you’re never quite sure what has soured Ben on the world. The film does let you know that he hasn’t always been this way: Before he became a proofreader, Ben was—get this—a successful children’s entertainer. He was also married, though his ex (Ally Walker) here serves only to facilitate his custody visits and generically ask what the hell his problem is.
When Ibu slips into a diabetic coma and Ben can’t get him to the hospital in time because his car is being towed, he naturally has another reason to hate life. But then Ibu’s comely sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan), arrives from Senegal to stay with Ben while Ibu recovers. She shrugs off his negativity and tries to befriend him anyway. Do you think Khadi might try to save Ben from himself? It’s too lazy a plot turn to stomach, but in a pivotal scene that will have you pleading, “No. No. Nooooo!” the answer, of course, is yes.
Wonderful World matches every cliché with a bit of melodrama, a combination that no one from the usually charismatic cast (including Philip Baker Hall as “the Man”) can help elevate. In its most ironic move of all, you’ll be in a far fouler mood at the end of the film than Ben ever was throughout it.