It’s difficult to get a bead on the “real” Shawn Mendes, even though a Netflix documentary offers plenty of backstage access.
We see him in the apartment he shares with girlfriend Camila Cabello, at home with his family and on tour buses. But it’s hard to cut through all of the adulation and see if he’s goofy in his quiet moments or just driven.
In “Shawn Mendes: In Wonder,” he’s constantly noodling on his guitar and playing any nearby piano. Before shows, he’s singing in arena showers and restrooms.
He’s very good but he doesn’t let up.
Midway through the special, he has vocal problems and it’s not difficult to see why. He uses his falsetto a bit too much and doesn’t embrace the concept of “vocal rest.”
When it comes to canceling shows in Brazil, he’s distraught. (Yup, he cries.) And why not? When he’s in those big arenas – “it actually feels like a city here” – he’s the mayor, the president, the pitcher, the quarterback. The love is so intense it’s easy to understand why some artists are addicted to performing.
Although Mendes’ sister remembers a time when he said he didn’t want to be famous, it’s difficult to imagine what he was like when he wasn’t.
Director Grant Singer uses very brief clips from his early years (when he sang off key and didn’t get the love wave that greets him now) and shows him interacting with his parents and sister on a trip back home. But those are elements that should have been expanded. How does a Shawn Mendes become a SHAWN MENDES?
Brian Craigen, a best friend from those early years, is part of his team but he’s seen largely on phone calls. A sit-down interview would have been nice.
Fans, though, will love the material shaped to feed the image. “In Wonder” opens with the 22-year-old in a shower, his tattoos glistening. It follows him greeting fans on Red Carpet lines and shows him playing nice with hotel clerks, arena officials and, in his Tesla, a fan’s dad.
He’s kind, generous and driven. Really driven. All that rehearsing has to take a toll – and it does. When he cancels in Sao Paolo, Mendes sits in the stands and weeps.
Doctors check him out, mom provides support, fans scream. Later, Mendes says anxiety is a big problem. The “Wonder” album reflects that.
But what are the anxiety producers? Worry about his voice giving out? Concern that Camila won’t be with him? Stress that he won’t seem like the coolest man in the room? Those questions aren’t answered.
Instead, “In Wonder” offers those glossy moments that fill a souvenir program. Mendes, sporting a sleeveless T-shirt that shows off his ripped biceps, comes to life on stage. He never sings a full song in the special (not even “Senorita,” even though he and Cabello rehearse for an awards show), which should frustrate even the most forgiving fan.
Still, “In Wonder” primes the pump for Mendes’ concert tour. If you didn’t know who he was, this is enough to consider buying a ticket.
He has a wonderful voice and instrumental heft. More important, he pays tribute to several predecessors.
If a concert film isn’t the next step, Netflix isn’t capitalizing on a great investment.
This says Shawn Mendes is a sure bet.
“Shawn Mendes: In Wonder” is now airing on Netflix.