Guava Island (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Donald Glover hasn’t missed for me as of yet, and his new film Guava Island (2019), in which he works with frequent collaborators director Hiro Murai and his brother, Stephen Glover, is another one that works for me. The narrative of the film is straightforward, but is clearly inspired by some of Glover’s – or, more accurately, his musical persona Childish Gambino’s – more recent music like “This is America”, “Feels Like Summer”, and “Summertime Magic”, all of which appear in the film as part of the narrative.

Guava Island is another showcase of Glover’s talent

The film is framed with Rihanna’s voice-over narration and opens with an animated sequence that explains the history of the fictional island of Guava. There is a magical silkworm that weaves the most beautiful blue silk which enchants anyone who beholds it. Unfortunately, this breeds greed, and the Red family takes over the island.

Deni Maroon (Donald Glover) lives with his girlfriend, Kofi Novia (Rihanna), on Guava Island. The people on the island all still work for Red Cargo (Nonso Anozie). Deni’s dream is to give the people of the island a moment of freedom in the form of an all-night music festival. This puts Red on the defensive, as he gives Deni an implied ultimatum: cancel the performance, or else.

If the initial idea and cast aren’t enough to convince you to give this film a chance, maybe the runtime and availability will do so. Guava Island has a short runtime of only 55 minutes. It debuted on Amazon Prime this past weekend, so anyone with a subscription to the service has immediate access to it. Much like the music in the movie is brought to the natives of the island via their radio, this movie was instantly brought to the public – which this article discusses.

Don’t let the short runtime make you think this film is short on substance. While the narrative of the Deni, a free-spirited musician, and his struggle against the corporate rulers of his people are on the surface and joyfully simplistic, Glover’s lyrics and the message the film conveys are much more important. Deni is notoriously late to everything, and when he finally shows up at work, he is confronted with warnings by his red jumpsuit-clad coworkers. One guy expresses his hope to save his money and flee to America, to which Deni responds that “This is America”. For me, Glover recontextualizes both the song that I’ve loved for the past year and the point of this film. America isn’t a geographic location, but instead an ideology of the rich getting richer by our own attempts to get rich.

Final thoughts…

The challenge I face in fully grasping every symbol and all the political commentary is mostly due to my resistance to confront the subject, as it often depresses me. However, I’ve watched the film twice, and plan to watch it again as I feel there is much to dissect. Furthermore, I do enjoy the simple service message of the free spirit bashing against the cage that would otherwise oppress him. Guava Island earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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