An early moment in “Shawn Mendes: In Wonder” shows its pop-heartthrob subject in the shower. You’ve 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’s come from and where he’s headed. The 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 can’t 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 humanizing portrait, but it doesn’t go deep enough to crack Mendes’s polished love-crooner veneer, nor does it say anything new about fame that hasn’t 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’s 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 film’s opening shower metaphor wasn’t just a tease. I, for one, was hoping there’d be more behind the curtain.
Shawn Mendes: In Wonder
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. Watch on Netflix.