Guava Island (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A little modest showcase starring Donald Glover

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It took some time for me to see how interesting Donald Glover is. I came to notice this African American actor for the first time when he was one of the main cast members in TV sitcom series “Community”, and then he showed he could be more serious via his small supporting role in “The Martian” (2015), and then there came acclaimed TV series “Atlanta”, which was initially an acquired taste to me but confirmed me nonetheless that he is indeed a multi-talented guy to watch. In addition to demonstrating his considerable talent as an actor/writer/director through “Atlanta”, he has also been quite active as a musician under the name of ‘Childish Gambino’, and many of you probably saw his recent phenomenal music video “This Is America”, which drew lots of talks and discussions for its thought-provoking mix of music and images.

In case of “Guava Island”, a 55-minute musical feature film which was first exhibited at the Coachella Festival in this April and then was released via Amazon Prime Video two days later, it confirms again Glover’s talent as well as his endearing star quality, and I was mostly entertained during my viewing even while recognizing its weak aspects. Although the story and characters are a little too thin and superficial on the whole, the overall result is fairly amiable as leisurely floating along with its good mood and music, and that is enough to compensate for its flaws in my inconsequential opinion.

During the opening animation sequence, the movie quickly establishes the main background of its story via a bedtime story. According to that story, Guava Island, a fictional island somewhere in the Caribbean Sea, was initially created as a tropical paradise where everyone could live happily and harmoniously together, but it eventually went through modern industrialization many years later, and now it is full of numerous textile factories where most of its inhabitants work everyday while not getting paid much for their labor.

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For these people, music often provides cheer and joy, and a young local musician named Deni Maroon, played by Glover, is always ready to provide music for his fellow inhabitants of the island. Besides frequently appearing in a local radio music program, he is going to perform at the upcoming festival to be held during Saturday evening, and many people in the island certainly have lots of expectation on that.

Shortly after Deni arrives at his workplace, one of his colleagues talks a bit about his desire to get out of the island and then go to US for a better life, and Deni sharply reminds him of why things are not so different in US. His argument is eventually developed into an impromptu performance of “This is America”, and it is surely entertaining to watch Glover burst into sing and dance along with others on the screen.

Around the end of this performance, Deni is suddenly taken to Red Cargo (Nonso Anozie), a big, imposing local tycoon who owns those textile factories in the island. He is not so pleased because he thinks the upcoming festival will considerably affect the productivity of his textile factory workers, so he demands to Deni that he should announce on radio that he will not perform at the festival, and that certainly puts Deni in a very difficult circumstance.

Meanwhile, we get to know a bit more about Deni’s long relationship with his muse/girlfriend Kofi Novia (Rihanna), who is incidentally one of those textile factory workers. Due to an unexpected change, Kofi seriously wonders where they can move onto the next step of their relationship, but she does not talk about that when they happen to have some private time together on the beach, and there is a lovely moment when Deni performs his latest song for expressing his longtime affection toward Kofi.

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While it generates some little suspense when there eventually comes a moment of choice for Deni, the screenplay by Stephen Glover (He is Glover’s younger brother, by the way), which is based on the story written by him and four other writers including Glover, continues to stroll without much hurry, and director Hiro Murai, who previously collaborated with Glover in “Atlanta” and “This Is America”, did a good job of imbuing the film with distinctive local atmosphere. Shot in 1.33:1 ratio, the movie often feels rough with its grainy visual quality, but it also feels quite vibrant with its vivid utilization of colors, and this aspect is particularly exemplified well by two sequences later in the story.

Although the characters in the film are more or less than broad caricatures, Glover and the other few notable main cast members in the movie are engaging enough to hold our attention. It goes without saying that Glover is the main show of the film, but Riahanna holds her own small place well although she does not get any chance to sing here in this movie, and it certainly helps that she and Glover have nice onscreen chemistry between them. As the bad guy of the story, Nonso Anozie is suitably cast although he does not have any mustache to twirl, and Letitia Wright, who recently drew our attention for her plucky supporting performance in “Black Panther” (2018), briefly appears as Kofi’s friend/co-worker.

In conclusion, “Guava Island” looks like a sort of minor test run for Glover and his main collaborators including Murai, and it mostly works well as a little modest showcase of Glover’s talent and star quality although I still think its story materials are stretched a little too much at times. It is not wholly without flaws, but it is likable enough for recommendation, and you will probably like it if you have enjoyed Glover’s artistic activities during recent years.

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