Shawn Mendes' glossy Netflix docu In Wonder gives a perfunctory ringside view of superstardom

Even if Shawn Mendes' music career is extraordinary, his problems are not. Thus, with In Wonder's revelations tenuous, its function is clear: to promote his upcoming album.

The New York Times November 24, 2020 12:39:50 IST
Shawn Mendes' glossy Netflix docu In Wonder gives a perfunctory ringside view of superstardom

Shawn Mendes in In Wonder. Netflix

An early moment in Shawn Mendes: In Wonder shows its pop-heartthrob subject in the shower. You have seen this one before: a man in the raw, ready to reveal himself to the world.

And so Mendes does, kind of, in the fragmented, glossy pieces of this coming-of-age tour doc that seeks to expand our understanding of where he is, where he has come from, and where he is headed. Music video director Grant Singer’s Netflix feature captures the pop sensation at a complicated time full of teen-idol dualities, as he reconciles his explosive music career with his not-so-private life.

He admits to longing for the mundanities of small-town life as an Ontario nobody, where he could just get high, eat beef jerky, kick back, and stare at the stars with his friends. But the purity of what made him the global somebody he is today — performing covers of pop songs on Vine as a young teen — is now disrupted by superstardom.

His life as captured by Singer involves swarms of tween girls and boys pouring their adoring tears all over him. And when he cannot perform a gig in Brazil because he has laryngitis, he beats himself up for disappointing 40,000 fans. All this pressure catches up to Mendes.

So even if his music career is extraordinary, his problems are not. Singer’s behind-the-scenes performance and hometown footage marginally grounds the godlike perception of Mendes, who reveals his conventional human struggles: the fear of imperfection, and the deriving of self-worth from his accomplishments. The movie chronicles him learning to let go of both.

In Wonder wants so much to be a humanising portrait, but it does not go deep enough to crack Mendes’ polished love-crooner veneer, nor does it say anything new about fame that has not been said in other pop-star docs of recent years. With its revelations tenuous, its function is clear: to promote his upcoming album.

This one is for his roughly 26 million Twitter followers fine with seeing Mendes performing acoustically in an empty bathroom, and sharing stolen moments with girlfriend Camila Cabello. Less enthusiastic fans might wish the opening shower metaphor was not just a tease. I, for one, was hoping there would be more behind the curtain.

Chris Azzopardi c.2020 The New York Times Company

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