On April 27, my movie Wonderful World, which stars my good friend Matthew Broderick, as well as Sanaa Lathan, Phillip Baker Hall and Michael Kenneth Williams, will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Just as an aside, Wonderful World is a terrible title if you care about self promotion. Press lists of festival movies are arranged alphabetically and Wonderful World, I've noticed, is inevitably the last movie mentioned. If I had any commercial sense, I would've called the movie "Aardvark." It's less important for titles to make sense than be noticed. The same holds true for content, but it's too late for that as well.
Early in the naming process, I toyed with the title It's Worse Than You Think, based on a statement from my then-seven year old after he spilled milk, but I didn't want to tempt reviewers who love double entendres. Now I think it would have been worth the risk to get to the middle of those press lists.
The main character in Wonderful World has been dubbed reductively in various press clippings as "the most negative man in the world." I should admit here that I am the one who dubbed him that. When asked what your movie is about, you have to say something, and saying "... it's a comic fable about the most negative man in the world" seemed to grab people's attention. In fact, Matthew Broderick's character has many facets -- he's a former children's singer, avid pot smoker, weekend dad... and a certifiable crank. But he's not actually the most negative man in the world. There are dozens of competitors for that spot, all of whom vacation in Texas.
One thing the movie is about is friendship, especially the friendship between Ben singer (Matthew's character) and his uneducated, but brilliant immigrant roommate, played by the great Michael Kenneth Williams (a.ka. "Omar" in The Wire). In the movie, as in life, friendship trumps crankiness. Matthew and I have been good friends for almost twenty years. It's a friendship born of place (we both grew up in pre-gentrification New York City) and attitude (we both look at the world with an amused, but jaundiced eye). And, yes, crankiness. Cranky people seek each other out. Our complaints are a kind of balm. We use complaints to express oh so many emotions -- anger, irritation, frustration, pissines, you name it. Even joy. When we want to boast about having had a good year financially, we complain about how much we paid in taxes. It's true, we do.
Just before production, I traveled to New York City to talk to Matthew about the role because I felt directors do things like that. I was a bit shy about it all. This was the first movie I directed and Matthew had been in dozens of movies and had dozens of these talks. Finally I told him I felt that the character he was going to play was like a dissident who had been banished to Siberia and had nothing left but his anger toward the world. Matthew turned to me and said, "Isn't he just a cynical guy like you and me?" Only after the movie was all done, did I realize the truth of this statement.
In fact, I've come to believe that the different styles of our crankiness merged in the making of the movie to form the psyche of the main character. There's kindness in there (that comes from me) and intelligence and wit (from me). He's also very handsome (also, from me). He can be oblivious to other people's feelings (Matthew), but he can also be really, really sensitive (me). In other words, the main character was formed less by preconceptions of his character than by the alchemy of our friendship.
Matthew and I rarely argued during shooting and when we did it was always about something incredibly petty such as who had it worse, Joe Louis after he was finished as a fighter, or Buster Keaton after he was finished as a movie star. These arguments, conducted while slumped on separate plaid couches in one of our corporate apartments over a bottle of Knob Creek after a seventeen hour day of shooting, were great bonding experiences.
What I guess I'm trying to say is Wonderful World is as much about friendship as anything else, starting with the friendship between Matthew and me and ending, ultimately with the friendship between the character Matthew plays... and the world.
Hence the title: Wonderful World (I guess I'll keep the title).
WONDERFUL WORLD SYNOPSIS
Could fish really fall from the sky? Matthew Broderick is Ben Singer, the world's most negative man, who refuses to believe even the tiniest miracle is possible. When his roommate, Ibou (Michael Kenneth Williams), falls ill, Ben is forced to host his Senegalese sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan). What starts as an awkward living arrangement soon turns into something more, and Ben's usual self-destructive nature gives way as he begins to find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. Wonderful World is directed by Josh Goldin and also features Philip Baker Hall.