Wonderful World is a checklist-indie that offers up clichés with gusto equal to that of its earnestness. Bitter misanthrope Ben Singer (Matthew Broderick) used to be a successful children’s singer but now spends his time complaining about corporate, profit-driven American culture and its infatuation with the “bottom line.” His bad attitude led to his divorce and now alienates him from 11-year-old daughter Sandra (Jodelle Ferland), but not his Senegalese roommate and chess-playing partner Ibu (Michael K. Williams), who shrugs off Ben’s grumpiness and yet, alas, winds up in a diabetic coma thanks to a parking spat-gone-awry between Ben and a neighbor. This, in turn, results in Ben’s lawsuit against the city (replete with a court case and Big Speeches), as well as the appearance of Ibu’s hot sister Khadi (Sanaa Lathan), who for no logical reason falls hard for Ben even as he becomes further obsessed with talking to hallucinations of The Man (Philip Baker Hall), who’s the embodiment of everything he despises. As if that corny setup weren’t enough, writer-director Joshua Goldin throws in a sorrowful score by eccentric indie-kids-musician Dan Zanes, and a third-act trip to Africa where Ben realizes that the world is a wondrous place—and that “thoughts are things”—when Ibu’s tall tale comes true and it begins raining fish.
Broderick mopes and grouses admirably, but Ben is such a stock type, and his circumstances are so doggedly implausible, that his ultimate transformation and happily-ever-after are a preordained conclusion that one must dutifully await while enduring squishy dramedy. Wonderful World partakes in multicultural flourishes that often flirt with Magical Negro stereotypes, as well as embarrassingly positions Ibu as a person whose sole purpose in life (and death) is to help Ben become a better man. Despite supposedly wanting Ben to resemble an actual three-dimensional individual, the film treats his anti-profiteering attitudes less like serious ideals than as cantankerous quirks standing in the way of personal and professional fulfillment. Broderick’s earnestness sporadically counteracts the enveloping treacle, but bottom line, Goldin’s mush about learning to stop and smell the roses is pretty close to being bottom-of-the-barrel.