Review: Donald Glover’s “Guava Island” fails to connect music and acting career

Nathan Hawkins, Sports & Managing Editor

  1. In the past year, it’s been hard to avoid some type of hype surrounding Donald Glover. As his music moniker Childish Gambino, Glover released “This is America,” with which he had his first No. 1 on the Billboard 100, won four Grammy’s, including Record and Song of the Year, and of course, had a music video that took the world by storm.

As Donald Glover the actor and director, he landed a supporting role as Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and he also continued his hit FX television show “Atlanta.”

2019 hasn’t slowed down much, as last week he had his first ever Coachella headlining gig. But arguably, that wasn’t the biggest thing Donald Glover did last week. Only days after announcing it, he premiered a feature film, “Guava Island,” a film in which he created the story and starred in.

The film starts off rather typical. Glover playing Deni, is an aspiring musician whose biggest goal is to have a festival that unites the island for one day. The movie co-stars Rihanna, who plays Deni’s love interest, Kofi.

The pair’s chemistry is charming enough, shining brightly throughout the film’s 56 minute running time. Their on-screen relationship is not enough to make a movie that comes across as a long music video intertwined with a cliche story worth the watch.

The intended audience with “Guava Island” is clearly to devoted fans of Childish Gambino. Coming into the movie, I was not aware that the film featured his own songs, often used as a driving point in the plot. He delivers “This is America” as a political message to a coworker, mocking him for wanting to leave the island to pursue the American dream. The political message is clear — the American dream isn’t real, or is at least misconstrued, in the eyes of Glover. The problem is, the political message doesn’t fit in with the political theme of the rest of the movie.

That theme comes from the island’s monopoly and main employer, Red’s Cargo, as “capitalism = bad”, but the script too often strays from that theme for it to be taken terribly seriously.  The seriousness of the anti-capitalism motif is countered with Childish Gambino original songs “This is America,” “Summertime Magic,” and “Feels like Summer.”

“Summertime Magic” delivers one of the more charming moments of the film. With Kofi and Deni sitting on a beach, Deni gets local musicians to play their instruments, with which he uses to profess his adoration for Kofi. With the sun beaming down on them, he sings “You are my only one/just dancing having fun/out in the shining sun of the summer.” It feels like the most spontaneous and real moment of song in the film, and the least like an excerpt out of Disney Channel Original Movie “High School Musical.”

The few moments of charm in the film don’t make up for the diluted, quite predictable plot. Glover had collaborated with director Hiro Murai on many music videos, including the viral “This is America.” But Murai’s feature film debut lacked the art of his music videos and the creativity of Glover.

If there’s any saving grace of the forgettable film, it comes from the shot composition. The shots flourish with colors against the backdrop of a Cuban town. The society they live in doesn’t feel far-fetched, and in a film where Rihanna and Donald Glover play the only characters without accents in this foreign setting, that sense of realism was nice.

Ultimately, “Guava Island” serves as a successful celebration of Childish Gambino’s music. Maybe Glover could’ve followed in Kanye West’s steps and released the musical film with a simple upload to YouTube. Because ultimately, “Guava Island” didn’t deserve the Amazon Prime release and Coachella headline that it got.