What is the story about?
Live performances may be temporarily out of style but music documentaries are making their way into the digital roster to fill that void. Most music documentaries, especially some of the best ones made recently - Beyonce’s sublime performance at Coachella covered in Homecoming (2019), a look into Taylor Swift’s beliefs as a person in Miss Americana (2019) or the strange isolation in spite of stardom in Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017) - follow a similar format. Yes, the names in these titles are established bonafide modern music legends but they are still discovering their sound. They are still rearing to go and have much to show for in the future.
Shawn Mendes is no different. The 22-year old Canadian pop sensation burst into the scene after the Justin Bieber phenomena democratized pop music. After gaining popularity through Vine videos (yep, how’s that for feeling old), he now has a massive fan following around the world… just hear the crowds go nuts as he performs to packed stadiums in Grant Singer’s ‘In Wonder.’ But that’s pretty much where the comparisons end - that Shawn is an up and coming music sensation who still has a lot of fresh sound in him, as much as he is able to, perhaps, project the image of a well-groomed popstar who exudes immense positivity and joy everywhere he goes. ‘In Wonder’ is supposedly about a lot - practice sessions behind the keyboard, a backstage look at the pep talks that happen between him and his ever-changing bands, how his manager saw his potential, his relationship with Camilla Cabello, and finally, his connect with his fans as the ‘nice guy.’ But once the film is over, you can’t help but wonder if you actually watched anything at all.
I’m assuming that fans of Shawn Mendes will lap ‘In Wonder’ up just due to the hagiographic nature of the documentary. The movie begins with a topless shot of the singer in the shower, that’s pretty much it. After that, it’s just 90 minutes of cutesy moments in Mendes’ life that have been engineered to make even the most stone-cold pre-teen go ‘awww.’ Just before the opening of one of his gigs, Shawn gives a pep talk to his crew stating what a wonderful thing it is that they do, spreading joy and happiness, and how grateful they should be in that moment. On his way to pick up sister Aaliyah, Shawn poses for a photograph for a fan from his car. The fan’s dad is in the next car at the traffic signal, and Shawn gives a small message on the phone to make her day. When talking about his long companionship with Camilla (which eventually resulted in them dating from 2019), he nonchalantly claims how all his songs are for her and about her. Mendes’ image and personality are that of a wholesome teen idol and it remains throughout.
It’s not like I am waiting for something explosive and negative to come through (and it doesn’t) but there is no great dramatic moment in his life in the limelight. Funnily enough, the same one that he was so vehemently against in his early days, as mentioned by Aaliyah. Everything in Mendes’ world is perfect. His romance with Cabello is straight out of a romance feature as you see low-angled block shots of them practicing as he strums his guitar. She awkwardly gushes about their relationship, which has often been a question mark in the media. If you are expecting even a slight bit of insight into their well-publicized romance, then you are in for a disappointment.
Meanwhile, most of Shawn’s concert work is pep talks backstage, and then a volcano of energy on it. He is certainly very talented and very charming, his millions should prove it. But we don’t even get to see him finish one song. All we see is him performing one banger after another, surrounded by screaming tweens. Additionally, Mendes also keeps a ‘manifestation journal,’ which could have lent some insight into his neuroses, if any. But that’s just relegated to the self-affirming quotes that we’ve already seen him smatter around to his crew.
‘In Wonder’ does little for Mendes beyond him sharing an odd anecdote or two before he became famous. I have come out knowing only as much as I already knew about him before I started watching the documentary (and all that knowledge is from Wikipedia, I have heard exactly one Shawn Mendes song before in my life). There’s an album called ‘Wonder’ on its way on December 4. As an extended promo for that album, well done for managing a whole documentary feature on Netflix.
Do I recommend it?
Nope. If you’re a fan of Shawn Mendes music, just pre-order his album. If you’re not a fan or couldn’t care less for him, avoid.