Matthew Broderick is playing a haggard, divorced, washed-out ex-children’s folk singer in “Wonderful World,” and his acting is, if anything, too realistic. The problem with playing a drab person is that all too often you end up giving a drab performance. Broderick isn’t walking through it, though. He’s trying to give his character, Ben Singer, a note of deadpan realism. He might have been more effective if he’d received some help from the script and direction, which is also – you guessed it – drab.
Ben is a career proofreader, the sort of job he hates, and yet it suits him. When that ends, he delivers pizzas. He doesn’t really care what he does. His teenage daughter, Sandra (Jodelle Ferland), whom he sees on weekends, loves him but can’t deal with all his negativity. His roommate, Ibou (Michael Kenneth Williams), is from Senegal, and compared to Ben, he’s the life of the party. He can turn a chess match into a social event. When Ibou goes into a coma, his sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan), shows up from Senegal to check things out and ends up rooming, at first platonically, with Ben.
This is where the film, which was written and directed by Joshua Goldin, becomes halfway interesting. The relationship between Ben and Khadi is believable and poignant, and we see in him more valor than we previously might have imagined. Lathan, her Senegalese accent down pat, is excellent, and her performance perks up Broderick’s as well.
This is a half-baked movie about a half-baked person, but it has a fine, melancholic afterglow.