If you visit Pajiba on a fairly regular basis, you probably get the idea that we piss and moan, bitch and complain a lot. That we’re assholes. Or worse: Pretentious assholes. Or geeky assholes. Or elitist assholes. I don’t know why we’re that way, or what led us to this point. It’s easier to fit in, I suppose, if you’re an asshole. But that asshole part of us is only superficial. It’s an identity ice-breaker, if you will. Show them your asshole (figuratively!), before you reveal your true self. It’s probably part of the nerd/geek/dork/arthouse enthusiast handbook. You reveal too much of yourself too early on, and you’re bound to get burned. Mocked. Humiliated. Alienated.
It’s about self-preservation.
So, we resort to our asshole default setting. “Scathing Reviews! Bitchy People!” And we maintain that posture while reading and reporting on shitty remakes or reviewing studio money grabs or ridiculing hipster love stories with their hearts on their sleeves. It’s what we are, I guess, on the surface.
But it doesn’t take a very deep scratch to see what’s underneath — I see it collectively in our readership when y’all rally around a sick reader or lash out at a troll who dares to come into this place and try to belittle another reader or attack the mentality of this site. Or even when only a few take me to task for an occasional bout of earnestness. There’s a lot of spirit in this place; a lot of positivity and heart bubbling right beneath the asshole exterior.
Like I said: I don’t know why we’re this way, or what makes the confluence of asshole and generosity of spirit so goddamn winning, but a movie like Wonderful World seems to speak to that. It’s premised around a very simplistic view of Game Theory as it applies to human relationships: Help those around you, and the favor will be returned, creating interpersonal equilibrium (it sounds like the opposite of Ayn Rand’s self-determinism). (And no: This is not a schlocky, studio fist of ham, like Pay It Forward). So in the spirit of Wonderful World’s game theory, I want to recommend that you see this movie, as a way to personally thank debut director, Joshua Goldin, for making it. Consider us even, Goldin.
It’s not a movie that’s likely to appeal even to most movie critics, who wear their cynicism with pride, and who are often not self-aware enough to recognize that a film like Wonderful World is speaking to that particular mindset. The film is about Ben Singer (Matthew Broderick), a former children’s recording artist whose refusal to sell out got him dropped by his record label and, eventually, drove him to a bitter, negative view of the world. He assumes only the worst of people, as he goes about his day job as a proofreader. He passes that attitude on to his 11-year-old daughter, who is having trouble dealing with that much negativity in her own life. It scares her, so she excuses herself from weekend visits with her Dad.
Things begin to change, however, when Ben Singer’s Senegalese roommate, Ibu (Michael K. Williams — “The Wire’s” Omar!), falls into a diabetic coma, and his sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan) moves into the apartment temporarily while she looks after Ibu at the hospital. Khada, as well as a co-worker (“Modern Family’s” Jesse Tyler Ferguson), begin to open Ben’s eyes to the not-so-horrible side of humanity, and show him that not everyone is obsessed with the “bottom line,” as Ben believes. Ben eventually casts aside his cynicism and falls in love with Khada, while also developing a friendship with his co-worker, which allows him to slowly reveal his better self to his daughter.
Comparisons to The Visitor are apt — it’s another movie where the misanthrope battles loneliness and is pulled out of his shell by other, often less fortunate people who nevertheless have a respect and admiration for life, for it details, and for the magic of existence. It’s not nearly the movie that Tom McCarthy’s movie was, but it does possess the same spirit, similar complicated choices, and a definite lack of easy answers (and a similar plotline, to boot).
Wonderful World is a tiny film — there’s hardly a budget to speak of, and it was released into theaters over the weekend without any promotion. But then, it’s not really the type of film you seek out; it’s the sort that you stumble upon accidentally, and appreciate all the more because of that fortuity. It’s not a movie that will impress you with special effects, hip lingo, a particular stylism, or even phenomenal acting. It’s simple, quiet, and low key. But for a certain kind of person, it might just pull you out of your asshole shell for a few hours, and make you reflect upon your life and how it connects to the lives of others. At least for a few minutes, until someone mocks you for your naïve earnestness, and you crawl back into your asshole and come back with some mean-spirited sarcastic rejoinder. Life’s easier that way, even if it isn’t always as rewarding.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. You can email him or leave a comment below.