'Wonderful World' yet another grump-in-love story 

While its skimpy budget and not-so-rosy plot twists place it in the indie camp, “Wonderful World” is an all-out formula picture, of the sort that features an incorrigible grump who rediscovers his bright side when falling in love.

As such, it contains a solidly acted curmudgeonly protagonist, but lacks the wit, boldness, edge or oomph necessary to make his story fresh or compelling.

Writer-director Josh Goldin, making his directorial debut, displays winning heart and humanity, but far less storytelling prowess as he presents us with Ben Singer (Matthew Broderick), a misanthropic, divorced former children’s entertainer. Ben now works as a proofreader and alienates everyone — from his co-workers to his preteen daughter (Jodelle Ferland) — with his constant grumbling about “bottom-line” mentalities.

The transformation begins when Ben’s Senegalese roommate, chess companion and only friend, Ibou (Michael Kenneth Williams), falls into a diabetic coma, a scenario that brings a visit from Ibou’s Dakar-based sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan). Khadi cooks, dances, believes in magic, and becomes both love interest and softening agent for Ben.

Goldin isn’t a hard-edged filmmaker, but he serves up some appealing warmth, and while his occasional recipe-defying plot twists feel blatantly deliberate, they are welcome in what is basically a standard grouch-awakening formula. Goldin also avoids the worst forms of redemptive-dad hokum. (There is no race to make it to the school play on time, for starters.)

The problem is that for every worthy ingredient, Goldin provides at least one tedious contrivance, from a corny court battle to an angry ex-wife to Ben’s marijuana-sparked hallucinations of “the Man” (Philip Baker Hall).

The film also suffers from blandness and a failure to give us a crisp sense of who its characters are. When Ben sues the city for depraved indifference after a callous municipal worker causes Ibou’s condition to worsen, his courtroom speech suggests underdog heroism. But he presents his argument so feebly he comes off more as just a mediocre malcontent.

While the film pales among stories involving the romantically charged rejuvenation of a grump or a broken artist — see Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” and Scott Cooper’s current “Crazy Heart” — and doesn’t allow Broderick to significantly show his dark streak (so memorable in Payne’s “Election”), Broderick is still impressive here. The primary factor in the movie’s ability to keep us from emotionally jumping ship: His Ben is a human portrait of a soured soul.


Wonderful World

Two stars

Starring Matthew Broderick, Sanaa Lathan, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jodelle Ferland
Written and directed by Josh Goldin
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 29 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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