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Movie review: Wonderful World

01/07/2010 06:53 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What's happened to Matthew Broderick? Why is he stuck in the rut of playing joyless schnooks, like his character in the new film, Wonderful World?

I thought of this after I happened to catch Ferris Bueller's Day Off on TV recently, for the first time in ages. In that John Hughes film, Broderick seemed to be the life force incarnate: happy, mischievous, audacious, subversive yet sweet.

But in a string of films in recent years, Broderick has shrunk himself to a cowering kernel of humanity: playing characters defeated by life before they get out of bed in the morning. Not that he doesn't still have a terrific sense of timing or a way with a one-liner - he regularly hits them out of the park in Peter Tolan's underseen, bitterly funny gem Finding Amanda, and is the perfect fuzzy protagonist in Terry Kinney's similarly underrated Diminished Capacity.

Yes, I know - in Ferris Bueller, Broderick was 24, playing 17. And in real life, even though he still has the same boyish face, he's closing in on 50. And he seems to be stuck playing schlemiels.

In Wonderful World, his latest is Ben Singer, an unhappy proofreader who once was a rising star in the children's music world. Now divorced, he shares his apartment with a Senegalese roommate named Ibou (Michael Kenneth Williams), spends an inordinate amount of time smoking pot and is a weekend dad whose sourness turns his daughter off.

Ben has, in fact, soured on the entire world. He's convinced that life is a stacked deck - stacked against him, at least. He's a man in a rut, unhappy and with no idea what he needs to turn his life around.

But when Ibou has an attack related to his diabetes - and Ben is foiled in his efforts to get him to the hospital because of the actions of a city employee - Ben finally finds a purpose to his life. While regularly visiting the comatose Ibou, Ben decides to take on City Hall - to be his own lawyer and bring an action for negligence on Ibou's behalf.