Shawn Mendes Documentary 'In Wonder' Offers a One-Dimensional Portrait of Its Subject Directed by Grant Singer
Published Nov 19, 2020"If I tell the world that I'm just a normal human, are they going to stop coming to the shows and listening to the music? Is all of the craziness going to stop? And then you're like, 'Maybe I shouldn't tell them. Maybe I should keep the trick up. Maybe I should pretend that I'm Superman for a little bit longer.'"
Shawn Mendes says this during what, compared to the rest of In Wonder, counts as a moment of intense vulnerability. He's losing his voice in the middle of a world tour, and he admits that he sometimes fantasizes about hanging out in the suburbs with his parents and smoking a joint under the stars with his friends. Sentimental ambient music twinkles delicately in the background.
A sore throat is what passes as the emotional climax and main conflict in this behind-the-scenes doc about the Pickering, ON-bred pop superstar. Mendes unfailingly comes across as an extremely sweet, sensitive and almost impossibly handsome 22-year-old. Viewers can't help but ask: is he actually this perfect? Is he ever ungrateful or irritable? Or is laryngitis the closest he ever gets to fallibility? After cancelling a show because of his poor health, Mendes breaks down in tears, explaining that he feels bad about letting his fans down. Damn, what a nice guy!
As a portrait of fame and ambition, Shawn Mendes: In Wonder doesn't cut deep enough. Whereas Taylor Swift's Miss Americana portrayed its subject as desperately craving approval (and experiencing emotional turmoil when she doesn't get it), Mendes is a comparatively flat character. He marvels at the sizes of the venues he headlines, and he has a pretty weird "manifestation journal" where he writes the same phrases over and over (the pages are filled with lines like, "I will sell out the Rogers Centre"). He doesn't seem to have specifically sought fame, but he's happy now that he's got it. "I'm just a guy, and I love music," he says sagely.
It's also not a particularly flattering portrait of his musical talent: Mendes is shown to be a very capable guitar player who does way too many vocal runs and doesn't have any memorable melodies to speak of. An arena cover of Coldplay's "Fix You" is just as saccharine as you'd expect, as is a backstage serenade of John Mayer's "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room." If you're not already a fan of his music, you're not going to come away from In Wonder wanting to check out his upcoming album, Wonder, which this film is intended to promote.
By far the most interesting moments of In Wonder happen away from the venue. A segment on his relationship with Camila Cabello paints a truly sweet portrait of their love, as these two incredibly famous people build a domestic life together that's almost kind of normal. The scenes involving his friends are similarly cute; his return to Pickering feels like something out of Friday Night Lights, as he lays in the grass and frolics beneath the power lines. He's still friends with all his old high school buddies, including a dude named Brian who seems pretty chill. Mendes says of his pals, "Now, we're here together. I want them to look around and be proud of it, and be like, 'This is just as much ours as it is his. Look guys, we made it.'" (Hopefully his friends hear that and demand an equal cut of his paycheque.)
It's these non-musical moments that turn Mendes into something resembling a human being. That's as much as we get, though — if he has a dark side, there's no trace of it here. (Netflix)