It isn’t very surprising to declare yourself a Donald Glover fan these days and it’s not hard to see why. Glover is one of the most talented people out there right now, not just musically. Having dipped his toes into writing, acting, stand-up, producing and directing, Glover has proven time and time again – he really can do anything.
I’m a huge fan of Glover’s work. It started when I couldn’t escape his mammoth hit Redbone, leading me to give in and finally listen to his first album. From Outside to Not Going Back and Camp, I love them all and still listen to them regularly today. Since then, I’ve gone out of my way to check out almost all of his work from his mixtapes and albums (as both Childish Gambino and McDJ), his work as an actor, his comedy specials, live shows, you name it. So obviously, I was buzzing with excitement when Glover announced his long-awaited secret project featuring Rihanna was dropping April 13th on Amazon Prime.
Guava Island is written by Stephen Glover (Donald’s brother) and is Hiro Murai’s feature directorial debut. Hiro is a long-time collaborator with both Stephen and Donald and one of the best directors working today.
The movie follows Deni, a local musician living on the titular fictitious Guava Island, ran with an iron fist by Red Cargo who live off the back of the oppressed people of the Island. Deni dreams of hosting a festival for the people to finally give them a day off and the freedom they deserve.
Donald Glover leads the film as Deni and, in spite of his inconsistent accent, is just as charismatic as ever, genuinely inviting, both full of life and purpose. He represents hope, the last of the Guavan people to dream of freedom rather than accepting his oppression, and uses his music to show this. Glover’s performance as Deni is truly vibrant and colourful.
Sadly the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast, but it’s no fault of their own.
Rihanna plays Kofi, Deni’s girlfriend, in a role not quite as fleshed out as Deni’s. Rihanna’s performance is undoubtedly good, her chemistry with Deni being the highlight and her character allows the story to deliver its message, but besides this, she’s given very little to do. Letitia Wright is almost in the exact same boat, her character has minimal screen times and adds literally nothing to the story. To have two actresses such as Wright and Rihanna, one of which is in her prime and the other one of the world’s biggest pop stars yet have them do virtually nothing is a real head-scratcher.
Arguably the best part of Guava Island is the island itself, truly coming alive through the vibrant colour palette of the film and beautiful cinematography by (yet another long-time collaborator of both the Glover brothers and Hiro Murai) Christian Sprenger. Shot on glorious 16mm, the film has a retro look to it, at some points the colour and grainy footage well together, giving it a Polaroid-style – a snapshot of time in Guava. This, along with the locals on the island, allows the world of Guava to come alive, leaving it as anything but fictitious.
Guava Island is an interesting enough experiment with enough traction to give it huge mainstream attention but it leaves the viewer begging for so much more.
Great direction from Murai, wonderful imagery from Sprenger and a great lead in Glover allows for a good story, with a terrific message to be told uniquely. But the lack of original songs, the average script and the wasting of talents such as Wright and Rihanna is what weighs it down.
Guava Island is one of the very few movies that could have accomplished more with a longer runtime. These problems could have been fixed with a simple edit of the script, however, the film as a whole feels rushed. In spite of these problems, it’s still a fascinating film that’s enjoyable, but it simply doesn’t live up to its own potential.