Not many people will dispute that Donald Glover is one of the most original and innovative artists working today. As Childish Gambino, he has released a wide range of music, all of it critically acclaimed and loved by the general public. His albums “Awaken, My Love!” and Because the Internet both garnered multiple Grammy nominations, and he won multiple times for the song “This is America.” Fans have been eagerly anticipating his next album, but instead they were given a short film called Guava Island. This film serves as a bit of a companion piece to his Coachella performance, and was released on Amazon Prime as soon as his set concluded.
In both film and television he is known for being creative and different, and this film is no exception. Glover reteams with longtime collaborator Hiro Murai for this new outing which takes place on a fictional island and centers around a musician (Glover) who simply wants to bring joy to his home through music. However, one of the higher-ups on the island has a problem with this because a specific event will interfere with the work that keeps the island financially stable. In case it wasn’t obvious, this story is a comment on capitalism, specifically that which America runs on.
Guava Island is by no means a bad short film, but it does nothing that will make me remember it for more than a couple days. The story on a surface level has been done before: an artist wants to play a show, something prevents him/her from playing the show, artist strives to play the show anyways, etc. However, I understand that Glover and crew weren’t making this for a surface-level story, so the allegory here is what’s important. The filmmakers use Guava Island as a metaphor for an America where the elite takes advantage of the underprivileged for material and financial gain.
Like much of Glover’s other projects, whether it be Atlanta or “This is America,” the most fun part of Guava Island is taking it apart, finding the commentary, and deciphering what he is saying about society. However, the problem here is that once the message is found, a realization comes that it is the same message he expressed in other works. As much as I love “This is America,” it would have been nice to see something different from Gambino. He goes so far as to include the song in the film, even though the majority of its viewers will have already seen the masterful music video and understood the point. While Guava Island has plenty of originality in it, it seems like the different plot was just a longer way of delivering the same message.
I’d prefer watching the “This is America” video to this for it has an even richer meaning with better motifs, and it critiques capitalist America with far more subtlety and persuasiveness. However, Guava Island does not disappoint from a technical standpoint. Director Hiro Murai proves once again that he is a force to be reckoned with, creating a visually beautiful world which, while filmed in Cuba, feels like a flawed paradise. The animated opening scene in particular is masterful. It combines the creativity of the idea around the film, the message that points out the greed and corruption in America, and the visual splendor that Murai is excellent at bringing to life. When the live action starts, it almost feels like a disappointment because the start was so visceral that the rest of the film seems average in comparison.
My favorite part of this movie was easily the brief musical numbers scattered throughout. I could listen to and watch Childish Gambino all day, and the mini performances were simply fun to watch. Those who aren’t fans of Gambino to begin with won’t be converted by Guava Island, but he delivers the hits for die-hard fans that will most likely get a kick out of this film.
If the only reason for watching this film is due to being a fan of Gambino, then there will be no disappointment. But I was looking for something different that would perplex and fascinate me like his other works always seem to do, and Guava Island doesn’t deliver that. It is a fine watch for those that want to see what Glover is about, but I’d rather watch all of Atlanta or further analyze the “This is America” video than watch this one again. While Glover still shows the usual hints of his genius in this, the fans want something new and different, and unfortunately Guava Island doesn’t quite fulfill their hopes.
I give Guava Island a C+.