Twenty-two-year-old Shawn Mendes started as a young YouTube sensation in the same vein as his fellow Canadian brethren Justin Bieber. As the pop wunderkind rose to fame through democratized fandom, Mendes grew an enormously devoted fanbase worldwide through his catchy songs and touring. Shawn Mendes In Wonder gives viewers a glimpse of the humble fame and meteoric rise of a young man still bright-eyed and idyllic that sometimes seems a little too manufactured.
The documentary opens with tour footage with an introspective voiceover from the artist himself. The film focuses on his more recent world tour in 2019 as he travels for shows across North America, Europe, South America, and Asia. Interspersed with home videos of the young star in the making, the concert footage gives just a tiny glimpse into his fanbase’s sheer size and intensity. With the tour consisting of 105 shows, it is bound to take a toll on one’s physical and mental health — as we see in this documentary. Playing packed, sold-out shows back to back all over the world seems like a grueling task for anyone — more so for a young man coming into his own dealing with the pressures and demands of his immense fame while trying to stay grounded and true to himself.
Shawn Mendes In Wonder is an intimate portrait of an artist as a young man, one who is deeply devoted to his craft and his fan but also torn between that lifestyle and a more “normal,” simple life surrounding by family and friends. By giving viewers a peek into his personal and home life, we can understand the artist a little bit more. But this is also a portrait of someone who is tired and is being pushed to the brink, both physically and mentally, but it is still trying to muddle through it with a smile and unbridled optimism.
Mendes is like an athlete in their prime, and we hope he doesn’t burn out. The film takes us on a journey with those high and lows (from being on stage in sold-out arenas to having to make the difficult choice to cancel a show last minute for health reasons), but doesn’t dwell too long on the negative — almost turning Mendes into Superman-type figure who seems almost too perfect and bright-eyed. But maybe that’s just his youth — or a finely tuned persona.
The film does a good job of showing us the surreal life of one of the world’s biggest artists as he tries to have moments of normalcy. The artist bears his soul and really lets viewers into his relationship with fellow singer Camila Cabello. At its heart, this film is a coming-of-age story of a young man who is insecure and unsure of himself even as he plays sold-out shows around the world. The sheer hugeness and intensity of his concerts are on full display here (and this writer can attest to that having been at his sold-out Rogers Centre show in 2019 — it was bananas). One can only imagine the toll it has on one when your life is this intense all the time. But it’s the music and fans that keep him going — and for someone who so passionately loves music, that’s all that matters.
Oftentimes throughout the film, viewers will get a sense of idyllic wonder while watching certain scenes coupled with the airy, almost space-like feel to the background music — it all seems dreamlike. But underneath is the real reality that this film only superficially penetrates the surface of. Shawn Mendes In Wonder shows us a young man trying to balance being grateful for the amazing life and opportunity he has with being normal and living a “small” life. There is the public persona of this almost-perfect “straight arrow” (not like most of his pop star peers) that seems impenetrable, but in this film, we see someone who obsessively checks his voice for fear of losing it and everything changing — someone who is going through it but forcing a smile for the fans.
This should be a film about really embracing your imperfections and finding yourself — but it just ends up being a superficial look at an artist with a peek into his life — just fan fodder. It fails to really go deep and show the real man behind the music or the “S” on his chest — it only hits one note and doesn’t deliver the rich, deep, intricate melodies and harmonies of such a life.