I’ve seen lots of the audience reviews on IMDB that say Guava Island isn’t a film. Unfortunately, those reviews are one hundred percent, unequivocally wrong. It might not be a feature-length film but it’s a film nonetheless. And a bloody good one at that.
Written and starring Donald Glover and directed by music video maestro Hiro Murai, Guava Island is the story of Deni, a musician who feels his purpose is to fill the lives of the people around him with music. And with Donald Glover in this role, this is done really convincingly as he switches between an earnest presentation of the character whose love for music is really infectious and performing that music with the charisma the singer exudes on stage as Childish Gambino.
Glover is joined in this Amazon Original film by global pop star Rihanna – who incidentally doesn’t sing a lick in the movie – and MCU favourite Letitia Wright. They all live together on Guava Island, a place run by Red Cargo, the head of a corporation who controls all of the island’s only export of blue silk. The people of the island all work for Red in some form or another and Deni’s mission to bring music to the people all comes down to a festival he puts on to try and help the island’s inhabitants feel free.
This 55-minute film in 4:3 aspect ratio is absolutely packed with drama, intrigue and most poignantly, art. It’s made up of some really natural performances from the stars, has a simple yet effective story and some great moments that are essentially Childish Gambino music videos built into the structure of the film. Guava Island is full of heart and Donald Glover is what keeps it beating. It’s obviously a personal project for him and you can see that throughout, while never feeling like it’s self-indulgence.
Sitting behind the storyline to this movie is the message that we can find freedom from art and don’t need to work all our lives in order to make someone else richer. As Red looms over the entire film, he represents much more than an employer that profits from the hard work of the people in its factories. It’s big business that controls many aspects of our lives and Deni is the antithesis of this.
Glover’s character is well-respected in his community and in bringing music to the people helps them snap out of their 9 to 5. When he plays his music everyone around him can rid themselves of their work-to-serve ideals and has freedom; even if only for the length of a song.
For something to be a film, it has to make a connection and create something memorable for the audience. Just because Guava Island isn’t a 120-minute slug of a movie that climaxes with a huge punch up, that doesn’t mean it’s not a film well worth your time.
If anything, it does away with the unnecessary thrills and spills of a typical cinematic release movie and delivers something fresh, unique and without a doubt, very well-accomplished.