Shawn Mendes: In Wonder Review: Sonic Youth

An easy-going, feel-good portrait of the Canadian star.

5 mins read

Shawn Mendes: In Wonder
(USA, 83 min.)
Dir. Grant Singer

Shawn Mendes is not nearly as annoying as Justin Bieber is, but their origin stories are comparable. Both young Canucks are products of good families and social media sensationalism. They’re proof that viral videos can propel talented performers to fame. Personality-wise, however, Mendes and the Biebs are totally different. Mendes keeps his nose clean, while Bieber’s bad boy antics consistently pay the paparazzi’s rent. A Justin Bieber character, therefore, tends to deliver a more compelling subject in a documentary. The Shawn Mendes, type, while admirable and entertaining, leaves a film relatively conflict free. This facet ensures that Shawn Mendes: In Wonder, Netflix’s feature documentary directed by Grant Singer, yields a satisfying vanilla flavour. That point isn’t necessarily negative, however, with Singer’s upbeat portrait of the young Canadian star.

Shawn Mendes: In Wonder doesn’t play strictly for fans, but his core followers will most appreciate this backstage glimpse of his 2019 concert tour and look at his forthcoming album Wonder. The film follows Mendes around the world, bringing him home to Toronto for a massive concert at the Rogers Centre for 55,000 screaming fans. Along the way, Singer offers glimpses into Mendes’s rise to fame and rapid success as a teen idol. Raised in Pickering in the Greater Toronto Area, Mendes credits his family, friends, and teachers for supporting his aspirations to become a singer. Friends and family celebrate alongside Mendes in Toronto, savouring his success. There’s a certain wholesomeness to the film that’s equally corny and refreshing.

A millionaire in his early twenties, Mendes could easily be a hot mess of pills, booze, and scandals. Yet aside from yearning to smoke a little pot, Mendes doesn’t show any vices. Singing fuels him and that’s clear when the film’s only major tension comes when Mendes loses his voice in São Paolo, Brazil and confronts the necessity of cancelling the show. He even cries, grieving not for the lost money, but for the disappointed fans. It’s not just when Mendes is with his family, or speaking fondly of them, that In Wonder has a quaintly down to earth charm.

Singer ultimately finds in Mendes’s tour a stirring portrait of youth. How rare and wonderful it must be to feel on top of the world at 22-years-old, living one’s dream, earning a fortune, and inspiring fans worldwide. Ample intimate footage of Mendes with his girlfriend and “Senorita” collaborator Camilla Cabello furthers the doc’s perspective on youth and fame. Capturing the couple in their New York apartment, taking separate cars to the same venue, or rehearsing in arena bathrooms prior to a big show, In Wonder offers a glimpse at youthful innocence uncorrupted by fame. For fans, this look into the world of the pop star should provide some high-pitched shrieks.

Energetic handheld footage that owes a nod of thanks to Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap captures the energy of the star’s youthful vitality as he runs in the fields with his sister, Aaliyah, as carefree as any twentysomething. When Mendes scampers through the crowded arenas while high-fiving screaming fans, the cameras sprint along with him, tapping into the vigour of both the star and the audience. The song performances are handsomely shot with all the hits appearing on the soundtrack including Mendes’s anxiety anthem “In My Blood” and a novel acoustic cover of Whitney Houston’s “Dance with Somebody,” while rehearsal scenes and recording sessions provide ample previews for Wonder.

Timed for release one week before the album, though, In Wonder admittedly has a whiff of advertorial branding. But when concerts and live music are non-factors in the age of coronavirus, one must forgive the film’s commercial pedigree. Shawn Mendes: In Wonder provides a welcome high through the energy of crowded venues reverberating with feel-good music.

Shawn Mendes: In Wonder debuts on Netflix November 23.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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