Turn that frown upside down, Matthew Broderick

Matthew Broderick is Ben Singer, a gloomy Gus whose darkness is pierced by a roommate with a sunny disposition.
Matthew Broderick is Ben Singer, a gloomy Gus whose darkness is pierced by a roommate with a sunny disposition.
Posted: January 15, 2010

Sam Singer (Matthew Broderick) is a picklepuss who regards the world as his enemy, life as brutish, and the glass as half-empty. His face has sagged into a permanent frown.

To call him a misanthrope is an act of charity. Here is a guy who uses custodial visits with his preteen daughter as opportunities to accentuate the negative. He also happens to be a pot head whose weed habit deepens his funereal worldview.

Lucky for him (and us) in Joshua Goldin's Wonderful World, Sam has a roommate, Ibou (Michael K. Williams), a Senegalese immigrant whose positive life-force pierces Sam's gloom like a ray of sunshine. Where Sam hears the rumble of injustice, Ibou and his sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan), hear the music of life.

Like The Visitor, in which the optimism of a Syrian squatter and his Senegalese girlfriend rubbed off on a depressed American widower, Wonderful World is about the gradual opening up of a closed heart. But it does not go as far as The Visitor in suggesting that its protagonist's closed heart may have something to do with America's closed borders.

While the message of Wonderful World is hopeful, and Broderick's performance is a tiny masterpiece in the key of Scrooge, Goldin's film is hobbled by its choppy storytelling. Despite the change in Sam, the film remains shrouded in a cloud of Eeyore-like pessimism. Shouldn't a movie about letting the sunshine in have a little bit of sunlight?


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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