Guava Island works better as a showcase of Donald Glover’s talent than an anti-capitalist critique, but it’s a laidback and enjoyable 55-minute celebration of artistry.
There are few more compelling arguments for the general unfairness of life and genetics than Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, aka the most annoyingly multitalented man who ever lived. He’s everywhere, and can seemingly do everything: stand-up, music, writing and directing, acting. He seems permanently on the brink of releasing some pent-up creativity in whatever way he likes. His latest effort is Guava Island, a film ostensibly by Hiro Murai, even though it’s virtually indistinguishable from the rest of Glover’s provocative, outrage-driven output.
According to an animated opening sequence, the titular Guava Island was initially conceived as an idyllic utopia spoiled, as ever, by the greed and hubris of mankind. Now it’s predictably a poverty-stricken authoritarian playground for a company called Red Cargo, where Glover’s character, Demi, sings loyalty-affirming jingles on local radio while his girlfriend, Kofi (Rihanna), works in a factory stitching fabric. Music — specifically Glover’s — is treated as a tantalizing kind of freedom from daily labor, and recognizable Childish Gambino songs are deployed in often off-the-cuff, low-production arrangements, like they’re occurring to the characters within the moment and they’re making do with whatever they have to hand.
Guava Island works best as a celebration of creativity and artistry than an anti-capitalist critique, especially since it dropped on Amazon Prime, of all platforms, which hardly seems like the right setting for a taunting polemic. There are much better message-movies that can rival this one’s off-kilter energy, such as Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You. But what works about Guava Island is its appreciation for self-expression, and how capably it gets across the idea of singing and dancing and cracking jokes as forms of rebellion. It’s a likable and enjoyable way to spend 55 minutes, even if it can sometimes feel a little limp-wristed and show-offy on Glover’s part. Then again, if you were him, wouldn’t you want to show off too?
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.