Wonderful World -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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NEW YORK -- Tales of cynical curmudgeons rediscovering their humanity have long been a cinematic staple, but "Wonderful World" brings a refreshing lack of sentimentality to its take. This feature directorial debut by Josh Goldin (co-screenwriter of "Darkman" and "Night in the Museum") provides Matthew Broderick with his best screen role in quite a while as a children's folk singer fallen on hard times.

The film recently received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Broderick plays Ben Singer, a divorced father eking out a living in a menial proofreading job and sharing a one-room flat with his chess-loving Senegalese roommate Ibou (Michael Kenneth Williams). Ben spends most of his free time railing at the world's injustices, even to his good-hearted 11-year-old daughter (Jodelle Ferland).

When Ibou falls into a diabetic coma, partly as a result of a city tow truck driver's refusal to unbuckle Ben's car even while his friend lies unconscious in the street, the main events of the plot are set in motion. Ben loses his job because he's missed work, he sues the city for "depraved indifference," and Ibou's sister (Sanaa Lathan) arrives from Africa and moves in with Ben.

While the film easily might have gone in an overly treacly direction, Goldin manages to avoid it, thanks to some unpredictable plot twists that subvert our expectations based on years of feel-good movies. Perhaps the sole misstep is the conceit of Ben's imaginary conversations with "the Man" (Phillip Baker Hall), who represents everything that Ben detests in life.

Broderick, playing a harder-edged role than usual, delivers a fully engaged performance that makes us empathize with Ben even while not making him particularly likable. Ferland is very moving as the beleaguered young daughter, and Lathan is so earthily sexy as Ben's new love interest that it makes his character transformation all too believable.

Screened: Tribeca Film Festival