Saturday, July 31, 2010

Is this downer trip necessary?

You can tell Matthew Broderick's character is depressed in Wonderful World (2009)--just look at his sideburns. Besides, in this picture he's talking to God. (Obviously they couldn't get Morgan Freeman, so they had to settle for Phillip Baker Hall.) Interesting how movie characters never talk with God unless things are bad. They never call on God to tell them how happy they are and how great everything is going. Just when they're about to make a colossal error, which they usually go ahead and make, notwithstanding God's advice. If God actually gave advice, why would you ignore it. The problem is, he never does let you know what he's thinking. Until it's all over. Then you know for sure, right?

Most of this film feels like a re-working of Thomas McCarthy's The Visitor; uptight white guy liberated by contact with Third World People who are experiencing a crisis. This time Broderick has an affair with the sister of his Senegalese roommate while the roommate is in the hospital. Wonderful World hauls out some even older tropes, such as African-people-are-in-touch-with-the-natural-world. Thus the rational Broderick tolerates all sorts of magical ritual.

Sadly, like Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, Broderick is really not in that bad shape. He is depressed and cynical, but he's not destructive, to himself or anyone else. Yes, he's turned his back on a life as a children's entertainer and on his trusting young daughter, but he's not getting drunk, beating people, crashing his car, fooling with guns, or doing the other kinds of things that people who are in really bad shape do. He's just kind of having a few bad days.

And sure enough, all he has to do is take his friend's body to Africa, witness fish falling from the sky, akin to the frogstorm in Magnolia, and he is all healed and ready to resume singing to the kiddies. So how was this a crisis worth memorializing on film?

I mean, who needs a glass that's half full, when there's overflowing glasses all over the place?

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