Director: Grant Singer
Executive Producer: Andrew Gertler, Shawn Mendes, Ben Winston, Grant Singer
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Shawn Mendes is hot. And it is the allure of his beauty that came first, for me at least, before his voice. This is not to say he doesn’t sing like a nightingale- because he does. But I came to his music through his appearance, and that stunning chemistry with Camila Cabello in ‘Senorita’. This documentary understands that- about a minute into it, before we hear him sing, Shawn Mendes is showering, and the camera is at a waterproof distance, but its gaze lingers on his biceps-triceps. He flexes them while washing his hair that curls carefully onto his forehead often enough for him to keep pulling it back, flexing. The bait is laid. But of course the documentary quickly moves on from that onto his craft and conflict, and so must we as its audience, for this is not meant to be an arousing, but a rousing documentary.
This is also a promotional documentary. Mendes’ new album, Wonder, drops in December, and he is the executive producer on this film. This isn’t a journalistic account by any stretch of imagination. But nor is it a portrait of an artist. Netflix did a similar thing with BlackPink, before the release of their album, putting out a glazed extended advertisement in the guise of a documentary.
I was worried Shawn Mendes In Wonder too would fall into that trap, but it sidestepped that by giving a proper conflict to the narrative- Mendes’ cancellation of his Sao Paulo concert- the 95th show out of 105 shows during his 2019 World Tour Shawn Mendes: The Tour. The documentary in fact begins with that moment of anxiety, after having cancelled the show. You just don’t know it’s anxiety because they gave so much footage to his carved abs.
One point people raised when the trailer dropped is that it is too early in Mendes’ career to have a documentary on him. He is just 22 years old, afterall. This comes from the assumption that a documentary should be reflective. But what 20-something pop-star can be reflective? This documentary isn’t interested in reflecting on fame. It is content with just being about a moment of fame, being in the midst of the maelstrom. Like Mendes himself says, he feels like an “an athlete at their prime”, and this movie is just a documentation of that zenith. The climb up, and settling down is reserved for another time, another documentary.
Here, we see him in love with Camila Cabello, his manifestation journal where he writes his aspirations a-hundred-a-thousand times, and his browsing of Kobe Bryant videos on YouTube to pump him up when he wakes up sick. It has a glossy, reserved quality to it, that is punctured by his mellifluous rehearsals and quick swerves to the backstage before his performances, filled with adrenaline and anxiety shoring up the drama: the confetti, the theatrical smoke, the white lights that dot the stadium for what looks like miles of adoring fans- it’s all rousing. And then it all ends, with his hum in your head, and his story a forgotten, forgettable anecdote. But then I browsed when his album was dropping, and I guess that was the whole point of this documentary, isn’t it?