In Wonder is an unfortunately empty, depthless bit of underwhelming, barely cinematic fan service.
Who is Shawn Mendes? For anyone over the age of 25, that question is probably quite literal; for the 22-year-old Canadian pop singer/songwriter’s core fan base, comprised mostly of teen and tween females, the question likely seeks answers that are a tad more profound. Unfortunately, both camps are likely to be disappointed by the new Netflix documentary Shawn Mendes: In Wonder, which follows Mendes on his 2019 concert tour The Tour — yes, that was legitimately its name. That very lack of creativity is symbolic of both Mendes’ unfortunately vanilla pop stylings and the film as a whole, which never once attempts to build any sort of depth into the portrait of its subject. Those who know nothing of the artist will likely walk away more confused than when they began, while hardcore fans will be rewarded with a few cute behind-the-scenes moments and very little else. Still worse, even committed concert doc enthusiasts who would otherwise be content with some footage of performative spectacle will be disappointed, as not a single song is shown in its entirety.
Director Grant Singer, a music video veteran, likewise delivers nothing of formal interest here, opting for a rote aesthetic style that combines polished widescreen on-stage footage with Academy-ratio behind-the-scenes B-roll bullshit. At least it’s not handled as a standard talking-heads documentary, instead opting to let the footage speak for itself, save for a few moments of voiceover narration here and there; it’s too bad, then, that the material captured for the project has absolutely nothing of interest to say. Singer stumbles on a few moments of beauty every now and then — one has to imagine by accident — including an extended section that follows Mendes back to his hometown of Pickering, Ontario; here, as golden hour pinks and oranges streak the sky, the superstar bounds with abandon about a beloved childhood soccer field located under the menacing dark specters of towering electrical lines. The intoxicating spell is soon broken, though, when the singer opens his mouth and starts talking about the juxtaposition of his worldwide fame and his desire to return to a simpler time: “Lay on a soccer field, smoke a joint, eat beef jerky. You know, small-town stuff.” Neither Mendes nor the film understands the statement’s implicit condescension, instead believing it to be a humanizing bit of humble color rather than distancing affect. It reflects a shallowness that informs the entire film, and there’s nothing here that can’t be found in a thousand other interviews and YouTube videos. In other words, it feels like little more than a carefully cultivated PR stunt and extended advertisement for Mendes’ upcoming album Wonder.
In the absence of any meaningful interrogation of the man behind such superstardom, the least viewers are left to hope for is hot goss, and at one point the film feels like it’s about to flirt with such juicy material by introducing Mendes’ girlfriend, fellow pop star and “Señorita” collaborator Camila Cabello. Instead, viewers are merely shown some behind-the-scenes footage of the pair preparing for the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, and the most lurid thing to report is that they both drop a couple of F-bombs. This film certainly doesn’t address rumors that have dogged their relationship (fairly or not) since its inception, specifically those involving Mendes’ sexuality, because such fodder would not jibe with the public image that Mendes and his team have so carefully cultivated through projects such as this one — that of a small-town Canadian boy and former Vine star made good. So, when the film presents such a generic image of Mendes, serious viewers are left to ponder, without aid, a few things. Who are these teenage girls crying in the streets as Shawn stops to speak to them, and what inspires their hysterical devotion? What is it about this man or his music that speaks to them so profoundly? It’s tough to discern if In Wonder is being cagey with its answers or if it simply doesn’t know, because nothing here even hints at a potential motivation. So here’s the deal: Mendes genuinely seems like a decent guy, and the man no doubt knows how to craft pop bangers that inspire no small number of listeners (this critic included) to channel their own pop star while singing along in the car. And that’s precisely why a film like In Wonder is so frustrating: it offers exactly nothing resembling insight when it comes to its subject, which makes one wonder (ba dum tss!) if there is even any to be found. That’s certainly not the message any film wants to leave its viewers with, especially those who consider themselves fans.
You can currently stream Grant Singer’s Shawn Mendes: In Wonder on Netflix.